Brahms: Die schöne Magelone

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Capriccio Digital
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms: Die schöne Magelone
WORKS: Die schöne Magelone plus a selection of Lieder
PERFORMER: Daniel Behle (tenor); Sveinung Bjelland (piano); Hans-Jürgen Schatz (narrator)

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t’s always good to welcome new recordings of this still underestimated curiosity of the Lieder repertoire (see also next review). Die schöne Magelone, Ludwig Tieck’s 1797 prose and verse retelling of an archetypal medieval tale of chivalric romance, was irresistible to Brahms, and drew from him some of his most inspired and innovative writing. But, is the work best performed with or without the prose narrative which links its songs?

Every performer has to make his own choice. This two-disc recording boasts that it uniquely offers both possibilities; though, of course, it has always been possible to edit out the narrative tracks on a favourite recording (for example, to dispense with Vanessa Redgrave in Christoph Prégardien’s and Andreas Schmidt’s performance.) And I should warn you straightaway that this is not a recording for a non German-speaking newcomer to the work: there are no English texts, though the liner notes adequately tell the tale.

Both the light lyric tenor, Daniel Behle, and his thespian narrator, Hans-Jurgen Schatz, are lively and engaging taletellers in what is a gentle, unassuming performance. The piece was originally written for the baritone voice and, unlike Prégardien, his senior, Behle doesn’t really have the heft for the more heroic songs. But he brings fragrance and a cultivated style to the more dreamlike reflections.

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Behle’s voice is not as close or as immediate in its recording as that of the narrator or, indeed, of the eager, light-filled piano playing of Sveinung Bjelland. For this reason, I prefer the first disc, without narration, preceded by six ardent and artfully chosen Brahms songs. Hilary Finch