GOETHE-LIEDER: DAS EWIG-WEIBLICHE • Marlis Petersen (sop); Jendrik Springer (pn) • HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902094 (58:52)
Songs by BRAUNFELS, DIEPENBROCK, IVES, KEMPFF, KRENEK, LISZT, MEDTNER, MENDELSSOHN-HENSEL, SCHUBERT, SCHUMANN, SOMMER, TCHAIKOVSKY, TROJAHN, WAGNER, WOLF
Assembling a concept album devoted to song settings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe does not, on the face of it, appear to be a particularly difficult enterprise. Goethe’s completely dominantRead more position in German culture—think of Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, and Newton combined into one figure—means that virtually every German composer of note, and many obscure ones as well, have set his lyrics to music. All praise, then, to soprano Marlis Petersen and pianist Jendrik Springer for assembling an unusually wide-ranging program of Lieder, specifically keyed to Goethe’s metaphysical concept of “the eternal feminine,” by mostly lesser-known composers representing a diverse array of musical styles. Virtually all of these selections go well with one another and are worthwhile items to add to any singer’s repertoire; the only one I do not like is the penultimate track, Bewundet viel und viel gescholten, by Manfred Trojahn (b.1949), a student of Ligeti. (Ilmenau by Charles Ives is one of his earliest compositions, from his days as a student of Horatio Parker, and is tonally and melodically quite conventional.) Liszt, Schumann, Hans Sommer, and Hugo Wolf are each represented by two items, the remaining composers by one apiece. The recorded sound is slightly on the spacious and resonant side; full texts are provided in German, French, and English.
The sheer gutsiness of this venture is confirmed by the opening track, the Monolog der Stella of Ernst Krenek. Lasting 6:24, it has to be one of the most brutally difficult songs ever penned, repeatedly shifting without warning between rapid runs, treacherous intervallic leaps to stratospheric high notes, sudden shifts in dynamics, and almost any other technical hurdle imaginable. Petersen nails it perfectly, and then next demonstrates her abilities to turn to something more intimate with Schumann’s Nachtlied, op. 96/1. Admittedly, Petersen’s vocalism is not absolutely faultless; sometimes when pushed, her somewhat slender voice can assume a slightly edgy and squally quality in the upper register, and some of her softer passages can be a bit breathy. In the occasional standard repertory items—Tchaikovsky’s Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt (sung here in German) and Wolf’s Singet nicht in Trauertönen—she cannot quite measure up to the greatest singers who have previously committed these works to records. Likewise, Springer is a thoroughly supportive accompanist, but not among the most imaginative I’ve heard. But these are relatively minor cavils; anyone who collects Lieder repertoire will wish to acquire this creative and challenging recital of intriguing rarities.