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Debussy • Hahn: Songs

Christiane Karg (soprano), Gerold Huber (piano); Bavarian Radio Chorus/Howard Arman et al (BR Klassik)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Debussy • Hahn
Debussy: La Damoiselle élue, and other choral works; Hahn: Etudes Latines and other works
Christiane Karg, Anna Maria Palii (soprano), Angela Brower (alto), Daniel Behle, Nikolaus Pfannkuch (tenor), Tareq Nazmi (bass), Max Hanft, Gerold Huber (piano); Bavarian Radio Chorus/Howard Arman
BR Klassik 900529   55:58 mins


An unusual song recital. This delectable hour in fin de siècle France starts not with soprano Christiane Karg, but the suitably fresh-sounding female voices of the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks in the piano version of Debussy’s youthful Salut printemps. The choir subsequently features in much of what follows, vibrant in tone, yet effortlessly conveying the weightless textures of Clytus Gottwald’s challenging arrangement of Debussy’s Les angelus.

The twin pillars of the disc are Hahn’s remarkable Etudes latines in a rare complete performance and Debussy’s cantata La damoiselle élue. Heard in an effective two-piano arrangement by the choir’s conductor, Howard Arman, the Debussy finds Karg soaring radiantly one moment, intimate and fragile the next. Admittedly, it is necessary neither here nor elsewhere to roll every single ‘r’ the text has to offer, but this is a small caveat.

A masterful cycle of ten songs, the neglect of the Etudes latines is not surprising. Never one to be bound by convention, Hahn sets seven of Leconte de Lisle’s poems for soprano and piano, but variously adds chorus, further solo voices and even another pianist for the other three. Despite this, they are characterised by restraint, none more so than ‘Salinum’, where just a smattering of notes, exquisitely placed by the ever superlative Gerold Huber, decorates Karg’s mesmerising vocal line.

Sadly, with no translations of song texts and repeating Wikipedia’s errors about the Debussy, the booklet falls short. As is apparent from the sustained beauty of Hahn’s ‘Paysage triste’, these performances deserve better.


Christopher Dingle