Eisler: Ernste Gesänge

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Eisler: Ernste Gesänge
WORKS: Ernste Gesänge, other Lieder
PERFORMER: Matthias Goerne, Thomas Larcher; Ensemble Resonanz


The Ernste Gesänge, a song cycle for baritone and strings, was the last work Hanns Eisler completed before his untimely death in September 1962. It’s a deeply moving testament to the struggles the composer experienced throughout his life in attempting to reconcile his left-wing idealism with the political realities of dictatorship. The songs chart a wide array of emotions which Eisler said proceed ‘from a state of consciousness to reflection, depression and revival before returning once again to consciousness’, and the musical style is extremely varied. Passages of a strangely fragile tonal simplicity are juxtaposed with frenzied dissonance.

Matthias Goerne’s performance of the Ernste Gesänge is mesmerising. Like his great predecessor Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Goerne colours every word with insight and intensity and moulds the melodic line with amazing fluidity. The Ensemble Resonanz follows his every nuance with fantastic precision and brings a breathtaking variety of texture to the spare orchestral accompaniment.

Goerne is equally compelling in a selection of song settings composed in exile in the USA that respond with irony, defiance and resignation to the brutalities inflicted by the Wehrmacht during World War II. Eisler is more capricious in the Piano Sonata Op. 1 which pays homage to his teacher Schoenberg. Thomas Larcher’s clear textures does the work proud.


Erik Levi