Wilhelm Kienzl Lieder Volume 1 [Christiane Libor, Carsten Süss, Jochen Kupfer & Stacey Bartsch; Chandos]

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Kienzl
Zwei Lieder, Op.2 – Es tönt ein voller Harfenklang
Frühlinglieder, Op.33 – Lenz!
Neun Lieder im Volkston, Op.6 – Hochzeitslied; Die verschwiegene Nachtigall; Die blauen Husaren
Acht Lieder der Liebe, Op.8 – Wehmut
Geliebt – Vergessen! Op.18 – Im Glücke; Gesunden; Deingedenken; Traumesahnung
Zwei Lieder, Op.37 – Triftiger Grund
Zwei Lieder, Op.39 – Sehnsucht nach Vergessen
Drei Lieder, Op.25 – Mephistopheles’ Lied in Auerbachs Keller
Zwei Lieder, Op.38 – Der Leiermann
Drei Lieder, Op.32 – Röslein und Schmetterling
Drei Volkslieder, Op.31 – Der Kuss
Zwei Lieder aus Osten, Op.35 – Romanze; Der Tambourinspieler
Zwei Lieder, Op.42 – Die Urgrossmutter
Drei Lieder, Op.32 – Jung Werners Lied
Sechs Lieder, Op.55 – An die Nacht; Augenblicke; Abendlied
Drei Gesänge mit Harmonium- oder Klavierbegleitung, Op.96a – Asphodelen; Letzte Reise

Christiane Libor (soprano), Carsten Süss (tenor), Jochen Kupfer (baritone) & Stacey Bartsch (piano)

Recorded 16, 17, 23 & 24 February 2008 in Florentine Hall,Universität fur Musik und darstellende Kunst, Graz, Austria


Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson

Reviewed: March 2011
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10666
Duration: 68 minutes

The search for musical discoveries continues unabated in the recording industry. Wilhelm Kienzl (1857-1941) is known, if at all, as the composer of the opera “Der Evangelimann”, while vocal specialists will probably be familiar with the aria ‘Lug’, Dursel, lug’’ from “Der Kuhreigen” recorded by Richard Tauber in the 1920s. Kienzl was a gifted musician and literary figure, excelling as academic, author, critic and conductor as well as composer. The area in which he felt most at home as a creative artist was that of vocal music, with nine operas and over two-hundred songs to his name.

Chandos has announced this release as Volume One of its coverage of Kienzl’s Lieder, covering the first thirty years of his song-writing career and including numerous first recordings. The songs are performed in roughly the order of composition, though there is only one example of a complete group being selected, the “Zwei Lieder aus Osten” of Op.35. Elsewhere individual songs have been cherry-picked from particular collections. This method has produced evidence of Kienzl’s range of song-writing. We see him experimenting with differing styles in his early years. The tradition of German folk-music is an early interest. “Neun Lieder im Volkston” are represented by the idyllic love narrative from a Middle High German text and a hearty Heine setting about the omnipresent cavalrymen, with galloping horses and trumpets prominent in the accompaniment.

The composer was not afraid to apply himself to texts which had already been set. A juvenile setting of ‘Der Leiermann’, of all things, borrows the drone imitation and the revolving melodic shape from Schubert’s song, while the title ‘Traumesahnung’ conceals a setting of the Heine poem known as “Ihr Bild”. In this case Kienzl treats the text completely differently from the slow, emotionally-crushing setting from Schubert’s “Schwanengesang”. The accompaniment has the turbulence of Hugo Wolf’s “Feuerreiter” and the vocal line squirms along, throwing off high notes like increasingly severe cries of pain, an equally valid treatment, if hardly likely ever to displace its predecessor. Settings of Goethe’s “Song of the Flea” to rival Beethoven’s and of Lenau’s poem “Auf dem Teich” which Mendelssohn used for his “Schilflied” are other examples of the time-honoured tradition of plundering German classic poetry. Kienzl sets elite writers, often choosing lyric prose rich in natural description, which can be pictured in sound by the pianist, such as light rain falling on leaves in “Gesunden”. In that song also there is a spectacular moment when the poet’s description of his sudden accession of well-being is reflected by a glorious flash of fortissimo light.

In none of these songs does Kienzl employ a purely strophic form. Even in those which set off with apparent melodic simplicity a middle section of greater or lesser contrast produces an ABA structure. His models are of the best. We are never far from the Schubertian mixture of melodic fecundity allied to inventive treatment of the keyboard. Kienzl’s postludes sometimes resemble those of Schumann. The influence of Wagner begins to be felt in “Deingedenken” and the post-“Tristan” harmonic world of the last two songs for harmonium or piano accompaniment of 1905 shows it well established. Of the singers here only Jochen Kupfer is really from the A-team. As well as bass-baritone sonority he has a smooth, rounded head-voice and the technical security to integrate soft high notes into the vocal line when Kienzl springs his difficult surprises. Throughout he makes much of the words.

The first masterpiece offered here is one of eight songs of love, ‘Wehmut”, to a lyric by Eichendorff. The eerie footsteps of the piano’s octaves establish an ominous atmosphere and return in the third verse after a brief harmonic excursion with hints of the sounds which his memories throw up. Before the brief postlude in which time seems to stand still the baritone has to produce a posed E flat in head voice. In the next song ‘Im Glücke’ (to Geibel) an E natural is demanded, supplied with equal aplomb by Kupfer. This is a subtly constructed piece. The falling scales which are so prominent in the piano part are eventually taken up by the voice, as if to suggest that the two lovers have finally met on their journey. Christiane Libor convincingly plays the disingenuous girl in ‘Triftiger Grund’, fending off her mother’s inquiries about her lost garland (could this be a metaphor for her virginity?). Her face audibly breaks into a grin at the repeat of “nach Herzenslust” as she describes her exchange of kisses with her boyfriend, followed by a jubilant conclusion as she produces the clinching argument “should I have let him go instead?” By contrast she captures the depth of feeling in ‘Sehnsucht nach Vergessen’ to words by Lenau. The poet prays for oblivion now that unhappiness can no longer be dispersed by the onset of springtime. Everything is suitably controlled. Unfortunately Kienzl gives the singer of ‘Schmetterling und Röslein’ a consistently high tessitura to depict the butterfly’s weightless flight and Libor’s lyric soprano sounds uncomfortable in a song which would suit Diana Damrau or Sumi Jo. The composer’s imitation of a traditional Romanian song-style in ‘Romanze’, with its characteristic mordents, is an admirable piece of writing and Libor is fine in her soft controlled singing but the tone turns strident at the climactic moment of each stanza. Nevertheless she copes well with ‘Der Tambourinspieler’, in which a girl is bowled over by a handsome youth playing the tambourine, which can be heard being struck and shaken, including in the singer’s own trill at the conclusion. The girl she portrays in ‘Die Urgrossmutter’ has another dimension of pathos to add to her superficial girlishness.

Carsten Süss starts with the unsophisticated spring song ‘Lenz’ and thereafter is given the lighter, conventional material. His is a fresh, airy Germanic tenor, rather run-of-the-mill on this evidence. That some characteristic features are coming together in the formation of the composer’s style can be unmistakably heard in the “Six Songs” of 1897 to texts by Michael Bernays. Kienzl conveys the poet’s tribute to the majesty of night in his slow, solemn treatment. Kupfer applies full bass sonority to his part, while again showing the ability to pluck a perfectly placed soft high note out of the air, on this occasion when appealing for peace. ‘Augenblicke’ is a vividly atmospheric song. From the resounding low octaves with which it opens an aura of frozen fear is sustained until the moment when the poet envisions a thunderclap breaking the tension (typically enacted on the piano).

Stacey Bartsch is clearly a willing advocate of this music. Unfortunately she sometimes takes this too far and has a tendency to play over-aggressively in the lighter pieces. Even in a song of greater gravity like ‘Sehnsucht nach Vergessen’ I feel uneasy about what sounds like an overloaded treatment of the writing for the right hand. The booklet provides excellent notes on composer and songs by Calum MacDonald as well as texts and translations. My one major reservation concerns the sound: the participants have been captured in a resonant acoustic verging on that of a bathroom, which accentuates Libor’s moments of shrillness. Even Kupfer is done no favours by it: his tone takes on an unwelcome hollowness at times.

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