Loewe: Songs & Ballads from Opp. 1, 2, 9, 20, 62, 81, 99, 118, 123 & 145

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COMPOSERS: Loewe
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Songs & Ballads from Opp. 1, 2, 9, 20, 62, 81, 99, 118, 123 & 145
PERFORMER: Florian Boesch (baritone), Roger Vignoles (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Hyperion CDA67866

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Carl Loewe (1796-1869), sometimes known as the ‘North German Schubert’, is still treated as something of an also-ran as a Lieder composer. His speciality was the ballad – a setting of a poem telling a tale, often dark and of folk origin – though he also wrote other songs (some 400 in total), plus a couple of symphonies, choral and chamber works, and five operas. The best of his work suggests a highly talented and latterly underrated figure.
 
These two new CDs focus attention on his achievement, though the recital by Dutch baritone Henk Neven and accompanist Hans Eijsackers dilutes it by giving half the disc over to Schumann’s Op. 39 Eichendorff Liederkreis (the word means simply ‘song-cycle’). There’s also a lot of duplication, Austrian baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Roger Vignoles’s Hyperion disc covering all but one of the nine Loewe items on the Onyx.
 
The comparison is almost completely to Hyperion’s advantage. Neven possesses a lightly textured, attractive voice, and his diction is focused and expressive. But his voice has a limited dynamic range, and there’s a sense of containment at those moments where it needs to open up. When Neven’s god Odin visits a blacksmith in ‘Odins Meeresritt’, he’s too polite a customer. Though he and his pianist are often inside the song, sometimes (as in Schumann’s magical ‘Mondnacht’) they are prosaic. And there’s dodgy pitching, notably in ‘Herr Oluf’.
 
No such problems mar Boesch’s performance, which demonstrates huge imaginative variety in characterisation (offering two different voices when necessary, or even three in Loewe’s setting of Erlkönig), and moving down convincingly to the lower register; perhaps he’s really a bass-baritone. He also includes the odd effect – something close to whispering for the intimacy of ‘Im Vorübergehen’. In such ways, Boesch emulates Loewe’s own reputation, singing to his own accompaniment, as an ‘actor-singer’. Vignoles matches him in playing of perception in what is pretty well an ideal introduction to a fascinating figure. George Hall