Karg-Elert: Vier Gedichte von Melanie Barth, Op. 62; Stimmungen und Betrachtungen, Op. 53; An mein Weib, Op. 54; Zehn Epigramme von Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Op. 56 etc

COMPOSERS: Karg-Elert
LABELS: Membran
ALBUM TITLE: Karg-Elert
WORKS: Vier Gedichte von Melanie Barth, Op. 62; Stimmungen und Betrachtungen, Op. 53; An mein Weib, Op. 54; Zehn Epigramme von Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Op. 56 etc
PERFORMER: Markus Schäfer (tenor), Ernst Breidenbach (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 60152-215
Think Karg-Elert, and you think organ and harmonium – or, at least, I do. But think Siegfried Theodor Karg, the name with which this German-Jewish composer was born, and you might more easily reconcile yourself to the fact that here is a forgotten Lieder composer whose heady, fin de siècle settings have recently been enthusiastically championed by the young tenor and pianist on this disc.

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The trouble with Karg-Elert as a songwriter is simply that he did what others around him were doing rather better. Do we really need to hear these Lieder when there are more rewarding pieces by Strauss, Zemlinsky and Berg? But Karg-Elert simply loved to write songs – he would claim he could dash one off in a minute – and I’m sorry to say that too often it sounds like it.

Ernst Breidenbach enjoys the opulent piano writing, but the extravagant, volatile vocalism can challenge Markus Schäfer at the extremes of his register. There are even settings of ‘Allnachtlich im Traume’ and ‘Hor ich das Lied erklingen’ in which it seems that Karg-Elert is daring to play Schumann somewhat quirkily at his own game.

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The best songs here – certainly worthy of an occasional airing in the recital-room – are the Ten Epigrams of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and the later, leaner valedictory songs of the Op. 59. Hilary Finch