LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Adelaide; An die ferne Geliebte; Schumann: Myrthen (excerpts); Tre sonetti di Petrarca; Lieder, Op. 27
PERFORMER: Ben Heppner (tenor)Craig Rutenberg (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 63104 2
This disappointing disc demonstrates the problems that a singer whose chief work is in the opera house confronts when he comes to the more intimate world of Lieder. Ben Heppner opens with Beethoven’s ‘Adelaide’, sounding uncomfortable at low power, phrasing woodenly, with a restricted range of colours, and his whole approach based on outward projection rather than inward invitation. Oddly, the same composer’s An die ferne Geliebte, at the other end of the disc, seems far better, more relaxed.
Perhaps towards the end of the sessions the voice settled into its role. But perhaps it is something else. ‘Ruhe, meine Seele!’, the first of Strauss’s Four Songs, Op. 27, strikingly brings greater confidence and more warmth when the pitch range is at the baritone mark. In those regions Heppner really can make a beautiful sound, whatever the dynamic. It is almost as if he has two distinct voices, the heroic tenor for the opera house, the ripe baritone for Lieder.
A Schumann group – seven songs from Myrthen, Op. 25 – yields a similar mixture. The outward passions of ‘Widmung’ are beautifully done. But when more restraint is demanded, as in ‘Der Nussbaum’, the tone quality tends to break up at anything less than mezzoforte anywhere above middle C or so. But the most successful singing comes in Liszt’s Three Petrarch Sonnets, where Heppner can give free rein to the marvellous top of his voice. Heppner’s pianist, Craig Rutenberg, plays beautifully and shamefully is not credited on the cover. Stephen Pettitt