Four Songs, Op.22
Vier ernste Gesänge, Op.121
Robert Holl (bass-baritone) & Roger Vignoles (piano)
Recorded in Wigmore Hall, London, on 7 December 2004
Reviewed by: Paul Cherry
Reviewed: May 2007
CD No: WIGMORE HALL LIVE
Duration: 64 minutes
This release includes two pinnacles of German Song: Schumann’s Opus 39 “Liederkreis” (to texts by Eichendorff) and Brahms’s “Four Serious Songs”.
Robert Holl has a big and powerful voice, one that he can pare down effectively. There is much sensitive singing from him here and, when required, operatic vividness; one might mention the occasional matter of suspect intonation and that the singer can be occasionally unkempt in terms of execution and phrasing. But he makes much of the words, pointing them with meaning and shaping the musical lines very expressively. Certainly Schumann’s great cycle here abounds with feeling and invitation.
Brahms’s settings are not laboured over; ‘serious’, yes, but not marmoreal – Holl brings nobility to this opus and lives the sentiments expressed. As throughout, Roger Vignoles is an exemplary partner, shading and colouring the vocal display and playing with a shared experience. The recorded balance is not quite ideal, though; the piano needs to be slightly more forward at times although preferably Holl requires rather more distance and a transfer not quite as ‘loud’ as this one..
The Hans Pfitzner group (setting words by Conrad Ferdinand Meyer) is a revelation and opens with a song of real depth and darkness – Holl enters fully into the despair. To such emotional and musical complexity the second setting offers heroic contrast; the third is reflective and haunting and the cycle closes stridently, Holl’s range and power coming into their own, but the recorded sound exacerbates this. There are three encores, one by Brahms and two by Schumann.
Despite reservations about the recording and post-production, the artistry of both Holl and Vignoles holds sway. The booklet includes the German song-texts and English translations