Songs by Brahms performed by Andrea Rost, Magdalena Kozˇená, Matthew Polenzani, Thomas Quasthoff, Yefim Bronfman and James Levine

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
WORKS: 5 Lieder, Op. 94; 15 Neue Liebeslieder-Walzer, Op. 65 ; Wie bist du, meine Königin, etc
PERFORMER: Andrea Rost (soprano), Magdalena Kožená (mezzo), Matthew Polenzani (tenor), Thomas Quasthoff (baritone), Yefim Bronfman, James Levine (piano)


Taped live in 2003 at the upmarket Verbier Festival in Switzerland, this collective Brahms recital is less than sonically ideal: apart from some audience noise, the sound picture feels crowded, with not enough space between and around the four voices. 

Brahms intended the Liebeslieder to be relaxed light music for domestic performance, but these performances sound on the tense side. The individual voices are unevenly matched. Each of the singers involved in the Liebeslieder Waltzes and the New Liebeslieder Waltzes also receives solo opportunities. An accomplished and highly sympathetic accompanist, James Levine collaborates with them in three songs, mostly chosen from the more popular Brahms titles; only one of them, baritone Thomas Quasthoff, offers an entire opus – the Five Songs, Op. 94 – and it has to be said that his contribution is by some distance the finest thing on the disc, his use of words exemplary and his tone exceptionally rich and wide-ranging.

By his side Andrea Rost’s soprano sounds wobbly and worn, Magdalena Kožená’s mezzo ordinary and Matthew Polenzani’s light tenor stretched. Even with Quasthoff’s top-class participation, they hardly add up to an ideal vocal quartet for the easy charm of Brahms’s first love-song set, nor for the more austere delights of the second, despite excellent pianism again from Levine, here joined by the equally distinguished Yefim Bronfman.


George Hall