WORKS: Fünf Liebeslieder von Ricarda Huch; Gesänge nach Gedichten von Friedrich Hölderlin; Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke; Little Cakewalk
PERFORMER: Mitsuko Shirai (singer), Elisabeth Verhoeven (speaker), Hartmut Höll (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 10 897
A passion for Entartete Musik and a fascination for the Terezín composers drew welcome attention in the Nineties to the neglected music of Viktor Ullmann. Mitsuko Shirai and Hartmut Höll were eloquent champions of his Lieder then – and they continue to be committed advocates of songs which are still
so lamentably under-represented in live performance.
Ullmann was, audibly, a pupil of Schoenberg, a contemporary of Zemlinsky in Prague, a dedicated anthroposophist, and a composer at the very centre of musical life in the concentration camp at Terezín. His Hölderlin settings were written there in 1943; and among them is the remarkable ‘Abendphantasie’, a muted melodic continuum whose contours follow those of the poetry’s gentle inflection with both economy and almost unbearable poignancy. Shirai’s mezzo, still with an attractive bloom in the lower register, gives a rapt performance.
These Hölderlin songs are flanked by the earlier, prewar Five Love Songs, and by Ullmann’s last major work, the ‘melodrama’ Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke – written shortly before Ullmann’s removal from Terezín to Auschwitz. These 12 pieces from Rilke are superbly recited by Elisabeth Verhoeven over Höll’s rich and strange piano tapestry of action and contemplation, as waltz and march intermingle in the consciousness of the young hero in time of war. It’s as concentrated and absorbed in re-creation as in creation and, as such, ideal for close-focus, private listening. Hilary Finch