Brahms Songbook, Vol. 1 – Die schöne Magelone; Regenlied
Thomas Oliemans (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Linn Records CKD693 62:42 mins
Brahms’s Lieder are some of his most personal compositions, yet can be periodically baffling. The song cycles here are full of beauties; still, they have long been regarded as problematic, chiefly due to the lack of a coherent overall narrative. It’s likely that Brahms never specifically intended the Magelone songs to be performed together; Oliemans calls the set a ‘spinoff’ rather than a ‘retelling’, drawn from Ludwig Tieck’s version of the medieval legends of Pierre de Provence et la belle Maguelonne.
Despite the distant origins, the emotions that Brahms finds in his chosen poems are both immediate and satisfying. This is one of the few Romantic song cycles that has, gasp, a happy ending. The Regenlied cycle that completes the programme is a group of four songs many will recognise from the finale of the composer’s G major Violin Sonata.
Oliemans’s voice is not conventionally beautiful, a lightish baritone that does not boast a great deal of open-throated warmth and occasionally has issues with high notes. He wins through, however, on strength of character and emotional intelligence, injecting a fine energy through the detail, diction and pacing of each song. Martineau provides a cushion of gorgeous piano playing, splendidly creating the atmosphere that sustains the storytelling.