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Burnished Gold

Robyn Allegra Parton (soprano), Simon Lepper (piano) (Orchid Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Burnished Gold
Berg: Seven Early Songs; Korngold: Sechs einfache Lieder, Op. 9 – selection; A Mahler: Songs (1915); Marx: Lieder mit Klavier-Begleitung; Müller-Hermann: Gedichte on Goethe, Op. 11; R Strauss: Morgen
Robyn Allegra Parton (soprano), Simon Lepper (piano)
Orchid Classics ORC100228   67:55 mins

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There is much to enjoy in this selection of late-Romantic Austro-German songs. The heart of the album is the Seven Early Songs of Alban Berg, performed here with dazzling grace, pathos and imagination. Joseph Marx’s songs tend to be almost excessively lavish, and both Robyn Allegra Parton and Simon Lepper heroically tackle his formidable technical demands (perhaps for this reason, Parton occasionally sounds a little matter-of-fact). Not every song merits this care – ‘Waldseligkeit’, for instance, soon outstays its welcome.

Strauss’s songs are also often overblown (or as one song translation unexpectedly puts it, ‘screams of unyelled screams’) but Parton’s lighter tone and Lepper’s transparent touch redeem them. I prefer the sympathetically rendered Müller-Hermann songs to Alma Mahler’s relatively unfocused effusions (though ‘Ansturm’ has a certain magic). The effortless musicality the musicians bring to the Berg Lieder is slightly lost in these closing songs.

Parton’s sound is agreeably brilliant, bright, open and high-lying. She brings many beautiful touches to the recording – the opening of Korngold’s ‘Liebesbriefchen’ is gorgeous, for instance, and this intimate colour would be welcome elsewhere. She uses judicious – and delicious – portamento (slides between notes), in keeping with this style.

Lepper often breathes magic into less inspired compositions. Some of these composers are famous for over-egging, but this pianist can un-clot even the densest of split musical mayonnaise. A superb judge of dense textures (listen to his sparks of fire in Berg’s ‘Im Zimmer’), Lepper is also intelligently recorded. A rewarding album, to which I will return for the Berg especially.

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Natasha Loges