Goethe Lieder: The Eternal Feminine

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COMPOSERS: Walter Braunfels/Ernst Krenek/Hugo Wolf/Liszt/Schubert/Wagner
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Goethe Lieder: The Eternal Feminine
WORKS: Lieder by Walter Braunfels, Ernst Krenek, Hugo Wolf, Liszt, Schubert, Wagner
PERFORMER: Marlis Petersen (soprano), Jendrik Springer (piano)


The relationship between Goethe and music is the stuff of numerous academic theses. But performance offers unique insight. The German soprano Marlis Petersen and her accompanist, Jendrik Springer, have searched far and wide to track down Goethe’s literary women – and in revelatory musical incarnations that are often surprising.

What is more, the sheer range of Petersen’s soprano and her interests enables her to compel and convince as much in 1821 Schubert as in German composer Manfred Trojahn’s settings from 2008. She is as much at ease with Ernst Krenek’s florid Monolog der Stella as with the late-Romantic fervour of Alphons Diepenbrock’s setting of Mignon’s Kennst du das Land – one of three settings of this poem by the Dutch composer. And she surprises us with Gretchen’s Meine Ruh ist hin set by Wagner; and with the fife and drum of Braunfels’s song for Klärchen from Goethe’s drama Egmont.

Most fascinating and seductive of all are the rare settings of Goethe’s Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh (commonly known as the Wandrers Nachtlied, or Wayfarer’s Night Song), which are scattered as little intermezzos throughout the recital. The pianist Wilhelm Kempff offers an exquisitely spare, understated miniature; Nikolai Medtner a dark, hushed setting with sinister piano-writing; and, best of all, there’s Charles Ives’s Ilmenau in which he lulls Goethe’s words into a lilting outdoor lullaby of typically individual inspiration.


Hilary Finch