Christian Gerhaher: Ferne Geliebte

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Berg,Haydn,Schoenberg
LABELS: Sony Classical
ALBUM TITLE: Ferne Geliebte
WORKS: Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte; Schoenberg: Das Buch der Hangenden Garten; Berg: Altenberg Lieder; Haydn: ‘Trost unglücklicher Liebe’; ‘Geistliches Lied’; Das leben ist ein Traum
PERFORMER: Christian Geraher (baritone), Gerold Huber (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 88691935432

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Speak of the first and second Viennese schools, and recitalists invariably programme Schubert and Schoenberg. Christian Gerhaher though, typically, finds his own searching way through the relationships of Viennese composers across the centuries in a recital of rare and compelling musical intelligence and integrity of response.

Gerhaher finds streams of consciousness running between Beethoven, Schoenberg, Haydn and Berg – and his own essay here, making references also to Brahms and his Magelone cycle, is essential reading. But as well as the intellectual satisfaction of this recital, there is also the sheer delight of Gerhaher’s superbly cultivated baritone, and his outstanding artistry. If ever art concealed art, it is here: he has the rare gift of fusing the most deeply thought-through responses with the most disarming simplicity and spontaneity of song.

Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte is as light of tread and as gently in its breathing as any in the catalogue – and it works. This pioneering cycle moves with total ease into the emotional diffidence yet heady sensuality of Schoenberg’s Das Buch der Hangenden Garten. Gerhaher and his pianist Gerold Huber capture both qualities with great sensitivity to Schoenberg’s own responses to the poetry of Stefan George. On to three Haydn songs whose performances reveal the intensity behind the genteel pathos – and on again to Berg’s Altenberg-Lieder. These are a response to Schoenberg’s own liberation of dissonance, and are played and sung with deeply affecting beauty, through the distant ranges of Gerhaher’s baritone.

The recital comes movingly full circle with a performance of Beethoven’s Adelaide newly revelatory in the context of all we have heard.

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Hilary Finch