Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sophia Brommer (sop); Alexander Schmalcz (pn)
OEHMS 877 (63:30)
Lieder und Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister,
Kennst du das Land; Heiß’ mich nicht reden; Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt; So laßt mich scheinen.
Lieder nach Gedichten von J. W. von Goethe,
class="ARIAL12i">Mit einem gemalten Band; Dämmerung senkte sich von oben; Herbstgefühl, Ungeduld.
4 Gedichte von Hermann Hesse,
10 Lieder nach Gedichten von Hermann Hesse,
Für Ninon; Pfeifen.
Lieder nach Gedichten von Spitteler, Gamper, Hesse, und Keller,
Kennst du das auch?; Was lachst du so?; Keine Rast.
Liederfolge nach Gedichten von Hermann Hesse,
Vier letzte Lieder
Oehms Classics, founded 10 years ago by veteran Arte Nova managing director Dieter Oehms, is the sponsor of a Special Prize at Munich’s annual ARD International Music Competition. Sophia Brommer received this award at the 2012 competition, where she also received the Audience Prize and won third prize for female voice. Brommer’s very fine debut recording, an outgrowth of the Special Prize, takes a literary approach to programming: the recording features Lieder with texts by Goethe and Hesse, each poet represented by both standard repertoire and lesser-known music.
Brommer and pianist Alexander Schmalcz are sensitive, subtle musicians. Elasticity of tempo, gradations of texture and dynamics, and a keen sense of harmonic tension and resolution prevail throughout the recording. Schmalcz is a refreshingly assertive accompanist, complementing Brommer’s musical choices with independent instrumental lines but allowing the piano to function as an unobtrusive support when appropriate. Brommer’s voice is light and well suited to the delicacies of Lieder singing. I would be eager to hear her sing Mozart or Schubert. With the exception of Strauss’s
Vier letzte Lieder
, the pieces on this recording are spare in texture and allow Brommer’s voice to float effortlessly over the accompaniment. The sound engineering captures both musicians with clarity and warmth, though with slightly too much reverberation to the voice.
Goethe is represented by the four Mignon Lieder of Schumman’s
Lieder und Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister
and four settings by Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck. Brommer’s Mignon is young and fresh-sounding, though effectively dramatic in the declamatory outpourings of
Heiß’ mich nicht reden
. Her voice does not have the mature richness of Jan de Gaetani’s or Arleen Auger’s, but this allows a sense of fragile innocence in her approach to Mignon.
Schoeck composed his settings of Goethe’s texts early in his career. Of the four pieces presented here, only the brief, motoric
shows signs of the mature Schoeck, though all four Lieder are skillful and attractive.
Mit einem gemalten Band
is almost Schubertian in its lilting rhythms and simple diatonicism.
exhibits a jazzy sensuality rather at odds with the unsettled nocturnal sentiments of Goethe’s poem.
is the most effusive of the four, with open fifth bass drones undergirding ecstatically chromatic treble harmonies in the piano and long, Straussian vocal lines. Brommer’s tone is pleasingly lyrical and warm throughout, and Schmalcz’s playing is richly colorful.
Schoeck’s settings of Hesse are represented on this recording by three Lieder from 1906, one from 1915, and two from 1929.
, the earliest of these settings, features an exuberantly Straussian triplet accompaniment beneath a soaring eighth-note melody. Schmalcz’s playing here is authoritative but does not capture the extreme ardor of the music as effectively as Brommer does. The three extracts from Schoeck’s op. 24b are lushly chromatic, reminiscent of Berg’s
Sieben Frühe Lieder
and the urbane harmonies of Les Six, both of which were to exert a significant influence on Schoeck’s later work. Brommer is touchingly elegiac on the doleful
. Schmalcz’s playing is bright and extroverted on the sparkling
Was lachst du so?
Two contrasting excerpts from op. 44 round out the set:
is tenderly Impressionistic whereas
is brilliantly virtuosic. Brommer and Schoeck deliver a full range of expressive colors on both pieces, though the tessitura of several of these Lieder is a bit low for Brommer, whose voice is most expressive in its mid-to-upper register.
Yrjö Kilpinen was a hugely prolific composer, with nearly 800 Lieder and a substantial body of instrumental work to his credit. The
op. 97 is a set of light-textured, tonal pieces that achieve a significant emotional effect with a notable economy of means. The piano accompaniment generally remains within the central three octaves of the piano. Harmonies favor seventh chords, modal cadences, and open fifth pedals. Vocal lines likewise avoid the outermost notes of the singer’s range and large intervallic leaps. Particularly attractive are the pentatonic declamations of
Wo mag meine Heimat sein?
, the gentle melancholy of
Ich fragte dich
, and the hypnotic drone-based
. This is intimate, introspective music, and it fits Brommer’s sensibilities extremely well; it is easily the best performance on the disc.
As I implied toward the beginning of this review, Strauss’s
Vier letzte Lieder
fits uneasily with the rest of the works on this recital. Unlike the others, it is work for soprano and orchestra—a large orchestra. The thick sonorities extend beyond the reach of a pianist’s hand; Max Wolff’s arrangement of the accompaniment requires significant arpeggiation, which tends to interrupt the pieces’ rhythmic flow. And even as sensitive and colorful a pianist as Alexander Schmalcz cannot produce the variety of timbres available to an orchestra; as a result, the accompaniment sounds rather pale and homogenous. Vocally, though Brommer demonstrates an impressive sensitivity to the text and harmonies throughout the performance, her voice does not have the weight needed to present these pieces convincingly. Written with Flagstad’s towering voice in mind, these pieces require a voice of significant heft.
This reservation notwithstanding, I recommend this recording highly, especially to listeners with a literary interest in Lieder or an interest in underexplored repertoire. I will be eager to hear Brommer’s future work.
FANFARE: Myron Silberstein
Works on This Recording
Liederfolge, Op. 97 by Yrjö Kilpinen
Sophia Brommer (Soprano),
Alexander Schmalcz (Piano)
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