Brahms: Complete Lieder, Vol. 3: Die schöne Magelone

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Complete Lieder, Vol. 3: Die schöne Magelone
PERFORMER: Andreas Schmidt (baritone), Helmut Deutsch (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 999 443-2
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was a great champion of the Brahms song cycle commonly known as Die schöne Magelone. And, after years of neglect, the tenors Peter Schreier and Christoph Prégardien have recently redirected our attention to this most unjustly neglected of works. The Big Problem of this cycle, though – based by Brahms on Ludwig Tieck’s Romantic retelling of the medieval love story of Fair Magelone and the Count Peter of Provence – is the underlying narrative. To tell, or not to tell? The cycle is thought to be impenetrable without a linking narrative (is Dichterliebe? Are the two Liederkreis?) Yet, as Prégardien and Vanessa Redgrave have recently demonstrated, it can be pretty disastrous with.

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Andreas Schmidt has had the courage to omit any speech, and to let the emotional momentum of these heraldry-bright cameos speak for itself. (If you’re really desperate for the story, it’s there in the accompanying booklet.) After all, the wonderfully muscular shifts of rhythm and rhyme in Tieck’s verse inspired Brahms to some of his most thrillingly impassioned writing: this cycle reveals gloriously the composer’s literally undersung fascination with prosody.

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Schmidt has not the fearless heroism and vigour of a Fischer-Dieskau – that crucial first note just misses the mark – and, with more diaphragm energy, the slings and arrows of passion would really spring from the page. He’s at his best where his warm baritone, minutely accompanied by Helmut Deutsch, can sink into those more melismatic songs of yearning and reflection. And Schmidt’s natural instinct for capturing the steadiness of steadfast love, and its final vindication, does seal the cycle with something very close to the heart of Brahms. Hilary Finch