Edith Mathis at the Lucerne Festival – Audite

by | Oct 2, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Edith Mathis at the Lucerne Festival = MOZART: 5 Concert Arias; BARTOK: 5 Village Scenes, SZ. 78;  BRAHMS: 5 Songs from Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33; SCHUMANN: 9 Songs from Myrthen, Op. 25; R. STRAUSS: 3 Songs; Wolf: “Auch kleine Dinge koennen” from The Italian Songbook – Edith Mathis, soprano/ Karl Engel, piano – Audite 95.647, 78:31 (9/6/19) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Swiss soprano Edith Mathis (b. 1938) has made an international reputation for her work in Mozart opera, to the extent that her duet with Gundula Janowitz featured in the film The Shawshank Redemption became symbolic of the power of music to lift an oppressed population of prisoners into a transcendent realm of beauty and hope. A veteran of opera work with conductors Karajan, Bohm, and Bernstein, Mathis possesses a strong and vibrant vocal instrument, ideal for the Austrian and German repertory, though Mathis has ventured into the French world of Berlioz and Faure. The present Lucerne lieder recital (3 September 1975) enjoys the piano accompaniment of Swiss veteran pianist Karl Engel (1923-2006).

Edith Mathis opens with Mozart’s 1775 setting of Mozart’s Das Veilchen, K. 476, from a poem by Goethe: here, a young woman plucks “a demure, good rose,” a metaphor for a young man’s heart, upon which she stamps out its life. From 1777 we have Mozart’s Als Luise die Briefe ungetreuen Liebhabers verbrannte, K. 520, a sad moment of a girl’s burning her unfaithful lover’s letters. The 1789 Abendemfindung an Laura, K. 523 brings us sentiments close to Gray’s Elegy in Country Churchyard, rife with meditative thoughts on mortality. Mathis negotiates the sad flux from F Major to C Minor with seamless resignation. The 1778 setting, Dans un bois solitaire, K. 308 provides a painful encounter with a vengeful Cupid, who having been awakened, shoots a dart into the intruder’s breast so that he will languish at the feet of Sylvie, unrequited in his love. Mathis concludes her Mozart group with the 1785 Der Zauberer, K. 472, a cautionary moment to women of the dangers of loving Domoetas, a seducer whose advances the narrator claims were thwarted by the timely appearance of her mother. . .else, who knows? The combination of ardent emotion and dramatic irony in each of the selections testifies to Mathis’ sense of poetry and poise.

Mathis next songs five Slovak Folk Songs of Village Life by Bela Bartok (1917-1923). Mathis brings a touching pathos to the Bartok syntax, softening the guttural Hungarian with the German versions of the songs.  Still, the keyboard harmonies suffice to wend their angular eeriness or percussive, even scathing, irony, as in Hochzeit. The Wiegenlied allows Mathis her maternal pathos in blurred, modal tones. The uneasy mixture of childhood innocence and hovering mortality leaves us with an existential shadow, a la the painters Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele. The set concludes with Burschentanz, a heavy-treaded, slightly manic celebration of life.

The Brahms collection of Deutsche Volkslieder appeared in 1894, virtually after the composer’s decision to cease composition. Brahms – and Furtwaengler after him – aspired to the spontaneity of the folk song as an ideal form of melodic expression. In stiller Nacht, the composer’s original melody, especially, expresses both the composer’s and Mathis’ capacity for direct, unadorned sentiment. Da unten im Tale (Down in the Valley) gives us an originally Swabian lyric reset in the late Brahms style. Both coy and playful, Wie komm’ich den zur Tuer herein? treats flirtation and burgeoning sexuality with irony. The set ends with Mathis’ rendition of Feinsliebchen, du solist, which presents a tantalizing dialogue of courtship and deception, ending with the young girl’s “theft” of a wedding ring. Vigorous, stylish performances, and well received by the Lucerne audience, a long-spun applause.

The 1840 set of Schumann’s Myrthen, Op. 25 – 26 poems or myrtles that serve as bridal wreathswere meant for Clara Schumann, the composer’s new wife. The poems derive from several different poets, but their tenor conforms to the split personality of Schumann’s musical persona, Florestan and Eusebius. A quick tempo defines Widmung (Dedication), which Liszt set to solo piano.  The arpeggios of Der Nussbaum catch the contours of the Austrian roses depicted therein. There are two Bride’s Songs, in which the key of A-flat Major sets the “temple” of a wedding ceremony; the key establishes the tone at both ends of the entire cycle. The theme of devotion plays itself out here, as it does in Lied der Suleika. Mathis can soften her dynamic and hold a dramatic breath to lengthen the intimacy and poignancy of the moment. The Im Westen may well allude to the dominant obstacle to Robert and Clara’s union, father Wieck. The many anagrams that run through the individual songs and their inter-connections here end with Hauptmanns Weib, which takes Clara from her father with tinges of both assertion and regret.

The music of Richard Strauss has meant much to Edith Mathis, and here she sings five of his songs. Mathis opens with Heine’s Schlechtes Wetter, Op. 69, No. 5. Which allows Mathis her high note in the midst of terrible weather. Gilm’s Die Nacht, Op. 10, No. 3 “celebrates” the overpowering force of night, the potential of death to steal away the beloved. Ach, Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden, Op. 21, No. 3 laments the departure of a beloved, that even Nature commiserates the loss. Gustav Falke’s tender Meinem Kinde, Op. 37, No. 3 invokes a blessing upon a sleeping child, whom the angels may protect with an herb of grace. Listen to the harmony of Mathis’ high range and Engel’s glowing arpeggios. The last, Hat gesacht – bleibt nicht dabei, Op. 36, No. 3 poses an ironic parable for love by presenting a series of offerings: eggs, birds, and kisses. If the lover does indeed provide three kisses – and not the mere two of the other temptations – it will not stop there,

A moment of appreciation for the unison applause, and then one encore: Hugo Wolf’s setting of Paul Heyse’s Auch kleine Dinge koennen (Even little things may delight us), like a single rose – certainly the voice that has enchanted us this evening in Switzerland.

—Gary Lemco


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