Liebeslieder Waltzes, Opp 52 & 65; plus various Lieder
Mary Bevan (soprano), Fleur Barron (mezzo-soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor), William Thomas (bass), Dylan Perez, Joseph Middleton (piano)
Resonus RES 10286 67:03 mins
Brahms’s lighter music has long prompted occasional doubts: can such a brandy-and-cream composer excel at ‘love song waltzes’ as well? The answer in his day, when the Liebeslieder-Walzer were immensely successful, was a resounding ‘yes’. Inspired by Schubert’s dances, to say nothing of Johann Strauss, Brahms wrote the two sets in the late 1860s. Scored for three pairs of musicians – four singers and two pianists – they were perfect for salon gatherings. This delectable recording makes a splendid case, if it were needed, for their worth.
These four singers complement one another and blend effortlessly, seeming to share some crucial qualities: enjoyable tone powered by intelligent attention to the text, and wide-ranging emotional capacity encompassing high spirits and heartache alike. They also have relatively similar vibratos and not all of them wield this element with quite enough variety, which is a slight downside. But Joseph Middleton and Dylan Perez at the piano fire things up with bounce and swing, lyricism and occasional glitter, and the waltzes sound every bit as much fun as they should.
Introducing a group of solo songs between the two books provides welcome contrast and effectively breaks a lot of triple meter. Some of the recording’s most memorable moments can be found here: Nicky Spence’s ‘Lerchengesang’ is heavenly and hushed, William Thomas is heartfelt in ‘Feldeinsamkeit’, Fleur Barron brings dusky unsettlement to ‘Alte Liebe’ and Mary Bevan offers a tender, simple ‘Die Mainacht’.