Liebeslieder, Opp. 52 & 65; Hungarian Dances – excerpts
RIAS Kammerchor/Justin Doyle; Angela Gassenhuber, Philippe Mayers (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902616 56:17 mins
This recording of Brahms’s two collections of love-songs quasi Viennese waltzes is the latest in a large discography. It is spiced up by the insertion of a handful of the composer’s equally popular Hungarian Dances. It’s an appealing idea, evoking the kinship between Viennese and Hungarian music within the Habsburg Empire during Brahms’s lifetime. The songs can be sung by solo voices or choir, and this recording opts mainly for the latter with a few exceptions.
Yet the RIAS Kammerchor sounds a touch woolly throughout, making me miss the lighter, more flexible and sensuous solo version. This is especially pronounced in songs like‚ ‘Wohl schon bewandt’. The four-hand piano accompaniment is played with exceptional sensitivity and imagination, but the choir often seems to drag a fraction behind. This matters less in slow numbers like ‘Sieh, wie ist die Welle klar’, taken at a luxurious pace, but in faster songs, there is a perceptible delay. A few numbers in the Neue Liebeslieder are taken rather chorally by soloists. Minsub Hong is a notable exception with a characterful reading of ‘Ich kose süss’.
It is the pianists Angela Gassenhuber and Philip Mayers who make this performance, with readings which capture the teasing flirtatiousness of this music. In their hands, the interleaved Hungarian Dances sparkle. I especially appreciated the rarely heard Dance No. 20. More generous pauses between numbers would have allowed us to appreciate these thoughtful juxtapositions.