Beethoven, Meyerbeer, Spohr

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Meyerbeer,Spohr
LABELS: DG Archiv
WORKS: Lieder
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Melvyn Tan (fortepiano), Nils Erik Sparf (violin), Eric Hoeprich (clarinet)
CATALOGUE NO: 469 074-2
Fresh from her junketings with Elvis Costello, the Swedish mezzo here offers an intriguing foray into the byways of the Romantic song repertoire. The Meyerbeer settings – in French and German – show the master of the grandiloquent operatic blockbuster equally at home in the elegant salon romance. And abetted by the delicate, nutty timbre of Melvyn Tan’s fortepiano, Otter catches perfectly the piquancy and grace of songs such as the gossamer ‘La fille de l’air’ and the deliciously insouciant ‘Sicilienne’, and brings a kaleidoscopic array of colours to the quasi-operatic scena ‘Le voeu pendant l’orage’. The charms of Spohr’s Lieder with obbligato violin are rather more faded. In their decorous way the melodies are often appealing, especially in the pensive – and exquisitely sung – ‘Abendstille’. But the violin tends to fuss and flutter around the vocal lines like some hyperactive ballerina; and for all Otter’s deft vocal acting, ‘Erlkönig’ emerges as an almost comically tame response to Goethe’s feverish ballad.

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The central Beethoven group begins with two well-known Italian songs, for which Otter finds a darker, grander palette of colours, and ends with an urgent, sensuous reading of the ever-popular ‘Adelaide’. In between we have a clutch of less familiar items, including the mildly risqué ‘Der Kuss’, sung with wry coquettishness, and ‘Sehnsucht’, a nocturne of haunting stillness and simplicity. Occasionally – as at the opening of ‘Adelaide’ – Otter’s minutely sentient response to the text comes at the expense of a true bel canto line. This cavil aside, it is hard to imagine these songs being more delightfully sung or characterised than they are here.