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Liszt Songs, Vol. 5

Allan Clayton, Julius Drake (Hyperion)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Liszt: The Complete Songs, Vol. 5:
Victor Hugo songs; Die Lorelei; Ich liebe dich, etc.
Allan Clayton (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
Hyperion CDA 68179   63:09 mins

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The quieter moments of these songs show Allan Clayton’s voice at its best: smooth, tender and altogether alluring: the performance of ‘Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh’ is worthy both of the music and of Goethe’s famous poem. Under pressure, his tone can be rather less attractive, with an edge to it that may be necessary in an opera house, but less so given Julius Drake’s generally well balanced accompaniments. Only at one point, in ‘Enfant, si j’étais roi’, does the piano drown the voice, and even here some justification might be claimed (if not by me) in the phrase ‘le profond chaos’ where Liszt unhelpfully gives the singer low notes against heavy piano chords. By and large Clayton’s diction is good, although I would have liked more attention paid to final consonants, especially in the German songs.

The four settings of Victor Hugo come off well, and it is hardly the performers’ fault that Liszt’s rearrangement of Hugo’s text in ‘Comment disaient-ils’ makes nonsense of the poem. My only other quibbles are over occasional infidelity to the texts. At the end of the first song we don’t really get the piano perdendosi Liszt asks for, and in the last one Clayton sings the line ‘O tu ihm was du kannst’ at a full forte instead of the marked piano. But overall the performers are alive to the drama in many of these songs, suggesting what the quality might have been of the mature opera Liszt never wrote.

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Roger Nichols