PERFORMER: Hanna Dóra Sturludóttir (soprano), Stella Doufexis (mezzo-soprano), Dietrich Henschel (baritone), Axel Bauni (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: C 435 001 A
So many of Paul Dessau’s wonderful songs still remain unknown, lurking in the shadows cast by his stage and instrumental works. So this disc is most welcome, and not least for the way in which this compilation of songs fascinatingly and revealingly charts the composer’s career from 1914 to 1974.
The casting, too, sensitively characterizes the phases of Dessau’s creative life. Hanna Dóra Sturludóttir’s luminous soprano captures Dessau’s earliest ardent responses to words in his settings of Richard Dehmel’s bright-night poems; and she recreates movingly the passionate intimacy of the five love-songs (Fünf Lieder) Dessau wrote in East Germany in 1955, and dedicated to his wife Ruth Berghaus.
Baritone Dietrich Henschel’s linguistic flair enables him to track Dessau’s own sardonic take on the ballads of François Villon, from his years in exile in Paris – and later to dig deep into the double displacement of Langston Hughes’s ‘Homesick Blues’. Axel Bauni’s graphic piano-playing defines these performances, as well as the vivid satires of Brecht’s animal fables from 1972.
The three post-Chile Pablo Neruda settings of 1974, in all their numb and savage terror, fall to mezzo-soprano Stella Doufexis, whose vocal and imaginative athleticism also reveals Heinrich Heine to have been Dessau’s true and final soulmate across the centuries. Hilary Finch