Beethoven: Lieder

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Lieder
PERFORMER: Iris Vermillion (mezzo-soprano), Peter Stamm (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 999 436-2
Perhaps the least known of his works, Beethoven’s songs nevertheless support Michael Kennedy’s assertion that he ‘radically transformed every musical form in which he worked’, not because they mark any great departure in form – many of those here have comparatively simple strophic structures – but in their unrestrained Romanticism. That said, his most important solo vocal work, An die ferne Geliebte (1816), is arguably the first song cycle, and an utterly original one at that, for though it is based on a sequence of poems, it is through-composed rather than the standard succession of discrete settings.

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The German dramatic mezzo Iris Vermillion, better known as an opera singer, has a warm, polished voice. But there is occasionally a suspicion here that it’s just too powerful for Lieder (even if the lengthy phrases in ‘An die Hoffnung’ demand expansive lungs), a sense that she is controlling the volume at the expense of the emotions suggested by the texts. This, though, is nit-picking: her style is fresh and unaffected, and overall, thanks equally to the pianist Peter Stamm’s imaginative and finely detailed playing, it is an engaging recital that, in songs such as the four based on Goethe’s frequently set ‘Sehnsucht’, also reveals much about the development of a genre. Claire Wrathall