Brahms: Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 52

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Hough
LABELS: Linn
WORKS: Brahms: Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 52; Neue Liebeslieder, Op. 65; Hough: Other Love Songs
PERFORMER: The Prince Consort/Alisdair Hogarth (director/piano); Philip Fowke, Stephen Hough (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Linn CKD 382

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You’d never know it, but this new release, with its teasing title Other Love Songs, is dominated by Brahms’s Liebeslieder Walzer and Neues Liebeslieder – and in finely judged, delightfully youthful performances from the vocal ensemble The Prince Consort. But its eponymous Other Love Songs are those composed by the British pianist Stephen Hough; and they form a new song cycle of outstanding achievement.
 
Written at the suggestion of Prince Consort’s artistic director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth as a companion piece for the Brahms, the songs complement the Liebeslieder with settings of poems celebrating gay love, religious love, even love of a city for its passing strangers. Hough finds a language, a style, a startling response for the unique and elusive scent of each poem. There are solos and various pairings of voices, interwoven with often surprising and always thrilling piano writing.
 
Baritone and tenor hum and duet their way through When I have passed, by the gay black poet of the 1920s Harlem renaissance, Claude McKay. Soprano and mezzo-soprano rise to the fiery ecstasy of the mystic and hermit, Mother Julian of Norwich; and that Victorian parlour favourite, Pale hands I loved, is revealed as an anguished lesbian lovesong, complete with Indian Bhairav scales and sitar-like plucked piano strings. Hilary Finch