Wigmore Hall Live – Lorraine Hunt Lieberson & Julius Drake [Brahms & Schumann]

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Brahms
8 Lieder und Gesänge, Op.57
Schumann
Lieder und Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister, Op.98a [selection – Kennst du das Land; Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt; Heiß mich nicht reden; So laßt mich scheinen]
Frauenliebe und -leben, Op.42
Debussy
Fêtes galantes – Fantoches
Handel
Theodora – Angels, ever bright and fair

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (mezzo-soprano) & Julius Drake (piano)

Recorded 4 October 1999 in Wigmore Hall, London


Reviewed by: Melanie Eskenazi

Reviewed: November 2008
CD No: WIGMORE HALL LIVE
WHLive0024
Duration: 69 minutes

 

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“Frauenliebe und -leben” is one of those works which singers just can’t leave alone, even if they are men and the sentiments were simply not written for them, so there are vast numbers of attempts at it, often forgettable or, unfortunately, memorable for all the wrong reasons.

On this Wigmore Hall Live release we have the nearest I have heard to a definitive version of the work, although of course I’m well aware that “definitive” really just means “I like it”. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s untimely death deprived us of one of the true greats, of an artistry so compelling that even the stoniest of critics find it a challenge to listen to her without tearing up, and her pairing with Julius Drake is a partnership made in heaven. In this recording, “Frauenliebe und -leben” is part of a near-perfect recital.

The song-cycle is so often given as a sentimental piece, complete with ‘appropriate’ actions in performance, so it’s refreshing to hear it sung with due attention to the reality of Chamisso’s poems. As Richard Stokes has pointed out, these vignettes depict the feelings of an ordinary lower-class girl, and are “an eloquent testimony to a woman’s right to express her own feelings” – the poet married a girl much younger than himself, as indeed Schumann was about to do at the time of the work’s composition.

Typically Hunt Lieberson’s singing is utterly without artifice whilst still being touching in the extreme – a tough combination, and nowhere heard to greater advantage than in the rapt concentration of ‘Seit ich ihn gesehen’ and the whirlwind of ecstatic joy that is ‘Helft mir, ihr Schwestern.’ I know of no other version of ‘Süsser Freund’ which so engages your emotions, the limpid piano as involving as the moving quality of the intonation – if you can listen to the lines “Und daraus dein Bildnis / Mir entgegen lacht” without a lump in your throat then you’re made of much sterner stuff than I am.

The Brahms group is equally intense, the long-breathed lines of the beginning of ‘Unbewegte, laue Luft’ (the final song) as sensuous as the closing invocation is passionate, and ‘Es träumte mir’ sung with a suppressed ardour all the more effective for its restraint. Schumann’s ‘So laßt mich scheinen’ receives a blazing performance, the line “Macht mich auf ewig wieder jung!” almost unbearable in its poignancy. The aria from Handel’s “Theodora” represents this artist at her finest, with singing of an emotional force, clarity of line and depth of expressiveness that has few equals. I was at this recital, and it was unforgettable – just as this superb recording promises to be.

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