COMPOSERS: R Strauss/Berg/Korngold
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Bengt Forsberg (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 437 515-2 DDD
These two attractive CDs have much in common. They feature lieder plausibly banded together under the heading ‘Austro-German Late Romantic’. Each of their programmes includes worthwhile rarities; everything is delivered with unfailing polish and quick grasp by two of the most musicianly, most artistically versatile young singers before the public. And for some tastes, both voices might at times lack the final measure of interpretative weight, expansiveness, ‘period’ luxuriance.
The Schmidt disc, with orchestra, blazons ‘World Premiere’ on its cover. This refers to the presentation of nine early Mahler songs, originally with piano accompaniment, in sophisticated style-conscious, occasionally frolicsome new orchestrations by Luciano Berio, the leading Italian composer of our day.
But for me the really remarkable discovery is Strauss’s 1899 Notturno – 15 minutes long, properly a solo cantata meditating on mortality, written for a voice of Wotan-like grandeur. Andreas Schmidt lacks that, but in terms of understated beauty of tone, seriousness and eloquence, his performance provides ample compensation.
The novelties of Von Otter’s piano-accompanied lieder programme are the nine songs by Korngold, the boy wonder who burst upon Vienna with such opulent operas as Violanta and later the recently recorded Wunder der Heliane, and who ended his days as a master of Hollywood film scores. Each number here seems at once skilful, suavely curvaceous in its phrasing, and unmemorable. A richer instrument than Von Otter’s might make up the necessary difference; in Berg and Strauss, however, her exactness of artistic aim hits one bull’s-eye after another. Max Loppert