WORKS: Kerner Lieder, Op. 35; Liederkreis, Op. 24
PERFORMER: Thomas Hemsley (baritone), Friedrich Gürtler (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: PHI CD 171 ADD
A versatile figure on the British operatic and concert scene between the Sixties and the Eighties, Thomas Hemsley was the high baritone’s answer to Peter Pears, marshalling his distinctively reedy voice with exceptional refinement and intelligence. Of the assorted items here Schwanengesang is perhaps the least successful, despite Hemsley’s cultivated phrasing and idiomatic German. His tone and manner lack the sensuous warmth ideally needed for ‘Fischermädchen’ or ‘Ständchen’; tempi are often stolid – partly the fault of his accompanist; and while Hemsley catches much of the disenchantment and Weltschmerz of the great Heine settings, his voice becomes unsteady at the towering climaxes of ‘Der Atlas’ and ‘Der Doppelgänger’.
In the more outgoing numbers on the Schumann disc Hemsley can suggest strenuousness or petulance rather than passion. But there are many good things here: a poignant ‘Stirb, Lieb und Freud’; a noble, finely sustained ‘Auf das Trinkglas eines verstorbenen Freundes’; and a Heine Liederkreis that compensates in atmosphere and musical insight for what it lacks in vocal allure. Hemsley’s rather matt tone can be a drawback in the French songs, especially in Fauré’s Verlaine settings. But in the Duparc group he brings a vivid sense of drama to, say, ‘Le manoir de Rosemonde’ and spins an intense, almost hypnotic line in songs like ‘Élégie’ and ‘Lamento’. The spare, astringent Roussel Odes anacréontiques, with their shades of Stravinsky, are done with style and point. Worth considering, then, especially if you want the otherwise unavailable Roussel. But given the competition from Fischer-Dieskau, Fassbaender, Goerne et al, the Schumann and Schubert discs are primarily for devoted Hemsley fans. Richard Wigmore