Brahms: The Complete Songs Volume 1

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Lieder, Vol. 1: Opp. 48 & 86; plus selections from Opp. 19, 43, 48, 58, 59, 63, 69, 70, 95 & Wo033
PERFORMER: Angelika Kirchschlager (mezzo-soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)


First Schubert, then Schumann – and now Brahms: the first volume of what promises, on the evidence of this disc, to be yet another absorbing and invaluable encyclopaedia of a songmaster’s life and work. 

Graham Johnson, once again, is both mastermind and pianist, and, as ever, his accompanying notes and essays are as witty and richly allusive as his playing.

Johnson tells us that each disc is to be a journey through Brahms’s career: the songs appear in the order in which they were presented to the world, rather than that in which they were written. As for the composer’s great harvest of folksong settings, it is to be shared between all the singers of the series.

This recital is beautifully shaped – from the way in which the little opening diptych of songs leads to Angelika Kirchschlager’s disarmingly intimate performance of ‘Von ewiger Liebe’, to the irresistible quartet of Deutsche Volkslieder at the end. It’s rarely that the seven songs of Op. 48 are heard together.

Here they form an enriching group, from the lightly-stepped waltz of ‘Der Gang zum Liebchen’, to the medieval-style chorale of ‘Vergangen ist mir Gluck und Heil’ – most sensitively paced by Johnson, and sung within the darkly variegated palette of Kirchschlager’s mezzo.


Only when Brahms is in ecstatic mood is Kirchschlager, rather like her uncharacteristically sombre cover portrait, somewhat untypically reined in. I’d have liked more of a smile and a little more rapture in songs such as ‘O komme, holde Sommernacht’ and ‘Meine Liebe ist grün’. Hilary Finch