Brahms: Die schöne Magelone

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LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Die schöne Magelone
PERFORMER: Brigitte Fassbaender (contralto) Elisabeth Leonskaja (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-90854-2 DDD
It may be sacrilege to suggest such a thing, but this elegant and romantic song cycle might be less neglected if the lengthy spoken texts that alternate with the songs to tell the story were cut. As it stands, more than a third of the running time is given over to speech; Brigitte Fassbaender has a mellifluous speaking voice, but she is not a natural story-teller, and her delivery soon begins to pall.


Based (like Judith Weir’s Blond Eckbert) on folk tales by Ludwig Tieck, Die schöne Magelone is a tale of courtly love. Out of context, the songs neither tell the whole story (which concerns the love of a knight for the beautiful princess Magelone), nor stand alone as a cohesive cycle, but individually they are complex and attractive pieces nonetheless. From the simple folk form of ‘Liebe kam aus fernen Landen’ to the rhapsodic ‘So willst du des Armen’ and the gentle lullaby ‘Ruhe, Süssliebchen’, they require the soloist to present a range of styles and moods, and in this Fassbaender excels. Her glorious contralto is vivid and intense in the epic romances, sensitive and sweet-toned, even occasionally coquettish, in the more delicate numbers.


The Georgian pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja provides robust accompaniment. Claire Wrathall