SCHUMANN: Frauenliebe und –leben, Op. 42; 4 Lieder from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre; BRAHMS: 8 Songs, Op. 57; DEBUSSY: Fantoches; HANDEL: Angels, ever bright and fair – Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-sop./ Julius Drake, p. – Wigmore Hall Live

by | Jan 3, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUMANN: Frauenliebe und –leben, Op. 42; 4 Lieder from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, Op. 98; BRAHMS: 8 Songs, Op. 57; DEBUSSY: Fantoches; HANDEL: Angels, ever bright and fair – Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano/ Julius Drake, piano – Wigmore Hall Live 0024 – 69:31 ***** [Distr. by Koch]:

One cannot help but wonder how many other delights from hidden sources await us as regards the lilting and lovely voice of Lieberson. I mean, they just keep showing up—not that anyone is complaining, for it seems she has fallen victim to the typical artist’s plight of achieving true appreciation only after her death. We all knew of her talents before, but a careful and through examination of her body of work seems to be gaining a new assessment, one that is increasingly garnering accolades from previously tepid sources who are just now discovering her. I certainly do not want to fault Wigmore Hall at all for unearthing these, and I hope there might be more somewhere.

This is a rich and faultless program, Brahms being a staple that is often hard to mess up by any merely competent voice. In the case of Lieberson, the warmth and not overtly matronly voice (to which these gems are often subjected) brings a new luster to these lusty songs, perhaps the most explicit of his output, and she is able to convey the sensuousness of the texts within a carefully scoped context in this 1999 recital.

Schumann often brings his own set of difficulties, not as easy to autopilot as Brahms because of the vast expanse of interpretative agility needed, and Lieberson chooses to open with four of the Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, a set of eight books that enjoyed the attention of at least a dozen major composers of the era. Schumann zeroes in on the essence of each of these little tone poems, and any singer has to start from scratch as it were on each song, as there is no thematic connection, and one has to sell the story each time with no preparation. Lieberson is able to do just that with an unrivaled sensitivity and grace. But she does take risks on this recital; Frauenliebe und –leben (“A woman’s love and life”) is not only thematically linked in the text but in the music as well. And this is frankly one of the loveliest renditions I have ever heard. The texts are amazingly intimate, and Lieberson obviously believes that she needs this kind of time to truly reflect on the sentiments and make them her own. Does she succeed in every case? Maybe not—but then again, this music is so personal that it is difficult to make observations about it. Some of the songs seem almost spontaneous, as if she is not certain which way the melody will take her the next moment. This curiously improvisatory style keeps us on the edge of our seats, and definitely glued to her every utterance. Whether this is the performance of the age remains an open question—but on this night it must have been an extraordinary thing to witness.

The encores are wonderful, the Handel especially getting a smattering of applause from the delighted audience before the first note begins. Lieberson’s reputation obviously preceded her across the pond.

Julius Drake, as always, is paired at the hip with the singer, and you can hardly speak of one without the other. Sound is excellent, with notes, texts, and translations. Superb.

— Steven Ritter

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