Schumann/Brahms: Liederkreis, Op. 39; Vier ernste Gesänge

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann/Brahms
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Liederkreis, Op. 39; Vier ernste Gesänge
PERFORMER: Brigitte Fassbaender (contralto)Elisabeth Leonskaja (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-74872-2 DDD
Brigitte Fassbaender is a formidably accomplished lieder singer, her glorious contralto vivid and intense, her manner well-focused dramatically. But on this, the latest in a spate of recordings of the Eichendorff Liederkreis, she has overlooked the songs’ innate mysteriousness, and the result is disappointingly heavy-handed. Though her performance can hardly be faulted musically, her manner is too earthy and robust for the ethereal magic of the shimmering ‘Mondnacht’ or the tortured introspection of ‘Auf einer Burg’. Leonskaja’s accompaniment, despite some exaggerated speeds, is generally pedestrian and adds little to the atmosphere.

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Both Fassbaender and Leonskaja are more in their element, and much more genuinely expressive, in the Brahms lieder – an intriguing selection of songs that reflects a range of texts and styles, from simple folksongs such as the enchanting Serbian ‘Vorschneller Schwur’, the rhapsodic ‘Meine Liebe ist grün’, the melancholically beautiful ‘Sapphic Ode’ or the exquisitely dulcet ‘Nachtigall’. The Vier ernste Gesänge (‘Four Serious Songs’) provide yet more scope: Brahms’s last songs are settings of biblical texts, three concerning death, from Ecclesiastes, and verses from I Corinthians 13 (‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels…’). This complex and compelling work allows both performers to excel, and brings the recital to a glorious conclusion. Claire Wrathall