WORKS: Lieder, orch. Britten, Brahms, Reger, Berlioz, Webern, Liszt & Offenbach
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Thomas Quasthoff (bass-baritone); COE/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 471 586-2
With the solo song recital a rarity until the 20th century, many Schubert songs were popularised largely though orchestral versions by Liszt, Berlioz, Brahms et al. Reger and the young Webern continued the tradition; and more recently, Britten made a sharp and witty orchestration of ‘Die Forelle’. Predictably, Berlioz’s scoring of ‘Erlkönig’, complete with cajoling countermelodies for the demon-king’s own words, has a dangerous glitter and frisson. Brahms’s orchestrations are discreet and delicate (an evocative use of horn quartet and bassoons in ‘Ruhe, Jäger, von der Jagd’), Offenbach’s extra trills and curlicues in ‘Ständchen’ distinctly twee. Webern’s and, especially, Reger’s arrangements now sound like period pieces, their routine doublings of the voice part and slick touches of imitation adding a layer of comfortable upholstery to the music. Occasionally, as in von Otter’s raptly sustained ‘Nacht und Träume’, the singers and the marvellous COE woodwind have slightly different ideas about rubato. But otherwise I have few reservations about the performances. If von Otter’s tone is not quite as fresh as it once was, she remains one of the most searching, verbally aware of Lieder interpreters. ‘Die Forelle’ is deftly timed and coloured, ‘Geheimes’ shyly conspiratorial, ‘Gretchen’ perfectly judged in its mounting ecstatic agitation. Quasthoff, with his warm, noble baritone, is just as compelling, with an impulsive ‘An Schwager Kronos’ and an extraordinarily tender, mesmeric performance of ‘Memnon’. Those minor co-ordination problems apart, Abbado is a near-ideal accompanist, alive to any special felicities of scoring but always considerate to his singers.