Brahms Complete Songs, Vol. 4

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COMPOSERS: Johannes Brahms
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms Complete Songs, Vol. 4
WORKS: Complete Songs, Vol. 4: An Die Machtigall; Schwermut; Dein blaues Auge; Heimweh I-III; Alte Liebe; etc
PERFORMER: Robert Holl (bass-baritone), Graham Johnson (piano)


As with its predecessors and its Schubert and Schumann ancestors, this, the fourth in Graham Johnson’s Brahms Song Edition, cunningly matches the singer to the song. Robert Holl’s true bass register resonates eloquently with this programme of very serious songs, right up to its climax, the Vier ernste Gesänge.

Holl has the ability to draw the listener in. Through his profound responses to the wordsetting and to the songs’ subtle shifts of emotion, he can focus the anguish of the listening lover in An die Nachtigall and powerfully tune into the more veiled melancholy of Schwermut. By track seven or so of his chronologically ordered recital, you do begin to long for a change of mood, though. And it’s not until track 19 – a sunlit, genial performance by both Holl and Johnson of Auf dem See that there is really any light relief.

Plenty of treats, though, along the way: Holl relishes the yearning melody of O kühler Wald and gives a rich mahogany performance of the great ‘Sapphische Ode’ from the Five Songs, Op. 94.

For the Four Serious Songs themselves, Holl brings a deep sense of empathic humanity to the live, deeply felt and thoughtfully reasoned inner monologues which he makes of them.


Hilary Finch