LABELS: Champs Hill Records
ALBUM TITLE: Stunden, Tage, Ewigkeiten
WORKS: Schumann: Dichterliebe; plus songs by Grieg, Rubinstein, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Mendelssohn-Hensel and Schumann
PERFORMER: Benjamin Appl (baritone), James Baillieu (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHRCD 112
Hours, days, eternities… the first line of a poem by Heinrich Heine gives this CD its name – and warns us that this illuminating recital of Romantic and late-Romantic settings of his verse is likely to throw up more of those ever-vexed questions of just how bitter is Heine’s sweet, and how did his composers mould their own responses to the poet’s own?
Benjamin Appl, still a youthful BBC New Generation Artist, has the vocal robustness, cultivation and intelligence to test our own responses. The single vision of Grieg’s springlike and springing ‘Gruss’ is contrasted with Mendelssohn’s more emollient greeting, purling out of Appl’s warm legato as effortlessly as in his performances of the poignant, salonesque settings by the composer’s sister Fanny. For six rarely heard Heine settings by Rubinstein, Appl tapers his voice to sadness, while the lyrical heart of his baritone seduces the listener in the melodic ease of ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’, its pairs of staccato piano notes recreating a fragility of a fascinatingly different nature from that of Schumann’s incomparable setting.
We’re then plunged straight into four songs from Schubert’s Schwanengesang, as apparently vocally effortless as Appl’s concluding Schumann Dichterliebe. Here, as sensed throughout the recital, both Appl and his sentient accompanist, James Baillieu, give space, time, and ever-sensitive placing and pacing to the cycle, even if they sometimes fail to draw out the last drop of inner angst, pity and fear from these musical encounters with Heine.