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Bruno Walter: Lieder / Susanne Winter, Christian Hilz, Katia Bouscarrut

Release Date: 10/27/2009 
Label:  Brilliant Classics   Catalog #: 958757  
Composer:  Bruno Walter
Performer:  Christian HilzSusanne WinterKatia Bouscarrut

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WALTER Lieder (complete) Christian Hilz (bar); Susanne Winter (sop); Katia Bouscarrut (pn) BRILLIANT 9154 (75:33 Text and Translation)

My one exceedingly modest claim to fame in musical circles concerns the immortal German-Austrian-American conductor Bruno Walter, who has been my musical hero for some 35 of my now 52 years. As an avid collector of Walteriana, I possess a copy in some form of every official studio recording he ever made, beginning Read more with his 1923 acoustics, about 100 commercially issued CDs of live performances, another 70 CDs or so of unreleased performances obtained from private sources, several surviving film clips of Walter conducting, and virtually every recording made of Walter’s own compositions. I also collaborated in creating the comprehensive online Bruno Walter discography maintained by Erik Ryding (bwdiscography.com), who with his harpsichordist wife, Rebecca Pechefsky (coincidentally interviewed in this issue of Fanfare ), penned an award-winning biography of Walter (and who very kindly gave me a genuine autograph signature of Walter from 1935, obtained from a guest book in Salzburg).

So much, then, for my bona fides to review the present disc, the first release of Walter’s complete Lieder, including eight from unpublished manuscripts. As an adolescent, Walter originally trained to be a concert pianist, but soon turned to conducting, obtaining his first professional appointment at the tender age of 17. At the same time, he also nurtured ambitions to be a composer; already in 1893, at the age of 16, he conducted a performance with the Berlin Philharmonic of his own setting of Goethe’s Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt for chorus and orchestra, and composed his earliest surviving song, Der Reiter und der Bodensee , not long thereafter. In addition to the 26 songs presented here, Walter’s surviving compositions include the Meeresstille , two symphonies, a Symphonische Phantasie after Ibsen’s Peer Gynt , a violin sonata, a string quartet (the first movement lost), and a piano quintet; a piano trio has been entirely lost.

Overall, posterity must be deeply grateful that Walter had the wisdom and humility to recognize that his true gifts lay in wielding the baton rather than the pen or keyboard. The only other compositions of Walter besides his Lieder that have received recordings are his First Symphony and the Violin Sonata. Jerry Dubins and Lynn René Bayley both negatively reviewed the symphony in Fanfare 32:6. (I attended its first modern performance in New York in 2004, where Leon Botstein’s performance made a far more powerful impression than did his subsequent studio recording for cpo.) While I would find more merit to the work than they did, its evident weaknesses—notably a lack of structural tautness and truly memorable thematic material, for which the technical skill and ingenuity of its individual parts do not sufficiently compensate—mean that it will attract only dedicated Walterians and scholars of fin de siècle music in Vienna. The Violin Sonata, a considerably stronger work, has received four commercially issued recordings to date: the 1997 world premiere on VAI with the Orfeo Duo, coupled with the Pfitzner Violin Sonata; the 2000 Symposion issue with Marco Rizzi and Alessandro Maffei, filled out with the sonata of Richard Strauss; the 2001 Hyperion recording with Philippe Graffin and Pascal Devoyon, paired with the Goldmark Suite for Violin and Piano; and the 2004 Talent CD with Hagai Shaham and Arnon Erez, mated with sonatas by Hanns Eisler and Kurt Roger. Barry Brenesal gave a favorable review to the Hyperion release in 25:4; his assessment—“The work feels a bit overlong, but its appealing melodic material and extensive, ingenious development are positive factors. The use of recurrent motifs … is handled masterfully”—is eminently fair. The Symposion and Talent recordings far outrank the other two as performances and also have far more interesting couplings. I slightly prefer the Symposion issue for its impassioned, impetuous interpretation, but Shaham on Talent has a richer tone and recorded sound, and the always scarce Symposion CD is apparently long out of print.

Walter’s Lieder are another matter. Here, in these intimate, smaller-scale forms, he was in his true compositional element, and produced first-class works that would worthily adorn any Lieder recital. As Henry Fogel rightly wrote in these pages (32:1) upon reviewing a previous CD of Walter Lieder: “Every one of Walter’s songs here makes me want to hear more of his music.” While their melodic and harmonic world belongs to that of Walter’s great contemporaries in Lieder composition—his mentor Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Hugo Wolf—and goes back through Brahms and Schumann to Schubert (the opening of Liebeslust owes a clear debt to Der Erlkönig ), his voice is entirely his own. Generally their structures are non-strophic, favoring an increasingly complex linear development of the thematic motives, with subtle coloristic effects (e.g., the masterly opening chords of Tragödie II , evocative of falling snowflakes and brittle frost, lead into a tender love theme for the doomed young couple and culminate in the succession of dark, despairing, widely spaced chords marking their deaths).

The previously existing commercial discography of Walter Lieder, by issue number and year of release, singer, and songs, is as follows:

? Philips 6747 061 (1976; from a six-LP set, Von der Jahrhundertwende bis zur Gegenwart, devoted to early 20th-century Lieder); Hermann Prey; Der junge Ehemann.

? Bluebell BELL 180 (1984; issued on LP only); MariAnne Häggander; Musikantengruss, Die Lerche, Des Kindes Schlaf, Die Elfe.

? Linn CKD 238 (2004); Emma Bell; Die Lerche, Des Kindes Schlaf, Die Elfe, Waltrauts Lied I & II, Liebeslust, Tragödien I-III.

? Telos TLS 1008 (2009); Sylvia Greenberg; Die Lerche, Des Kindes Schlaf, Die Elfe.

? DG 463 515-2 (2000; also issued in a 20-CD set; originally recorded and issued 1964); Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Musikantengruss, Der junge Ehemann, Der Soldat.

? Orfeo C 185 891 A (1989; recorded live 1975); Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Der junge Ehemann, Der Soldat.

? Oehms 808 (2008; recorded 2004); Michael Volle; Musikantengruss, Der junge Ehemann, Der Soldat, Tragödien I-III.

? 2L 18; Christian Hilz (2004); Musikantengruss, Der junge Ehemann, Der Soldat, Weißt du, wie lieb ich dich hab’?, Die Linde, Sehnsucht, Tragödien I-III.

As can readily be seen, the most frequently recorded items heretofore have been the six Eichendorff Lieder without opus number ( Die Lerche, Des Kindes Schlaf, Die Elfe, Musikantengruss, Der junge Ehemann, Der Soldat ), with three previous recordings of the Heine Tragödien Lieder from Walter’s op. 12, and single recordings of six other songs from Walter’s op. 11 ( Waltrauts Lied I & II, Liebeslust, Weißt du ) and op. 12 ( Die Linde, Sehnsucht ), with three apiece sung by Bell and Hilz. The 11 world premiere items here are the other two songs of op. 11, the remaining song of op. 12 ( Solvegs Lied of Ibsen), three additional Eichendorff Lieder without opus number, and five miscellaneous songs (including one by Rückert and a Geburtstaglied with the text by Walter himself). The op. 11 and op. 12 were published by Drelilien in Berlin in 1902, and the six Eichendorff Lieder by Universal in Vienna in 1910; the last eight items remain unpublished. Some of the songs were composed several years prior to publication; for example, Vorbei from the op. 11 was publicly performed in 1897.

Except for my review in Fanfare 34:1 of a recital album by Sylvia Greenberg, Fanfare ’s previous reviewer of choice for CDs of Walter Lieder has been Henry Fogel. I fully concur with his high praise of the disc by Emma Bell, and have nothing more to add to that. I differ somewhat from his likewise positive estimation in 32:1 of the Oehms CD with Michael Volle; the basic voice is powerful and secure, but it lacks sheen, and he sometimes tends to overpower the music in an almost hectoring manner that causes his upper register to turn somewhat harsh. Reviewing Hilz’s earlier recording of Walter Lieder on the Norwegian 2L label in 28:1, Fogel commented on Hilz’s “severe timbral limitations” and added: “At mezzo forte or louder, the tone thins out and sounds throaty, there is little actual ‘juice’ in the sound at any level, he struggles to maintain a tone in the lower registers, and his interpretive touches are not enough out of the ordinary to compensate for his vocal limitations. This may all sound harsher than it should; his singing is not unlistenable by any means, but it doesn’t bring much real pleasure either.” I would have been less severe and more complimentary, but this was not inaccurate, and one also could have noted a degree of thinness and unsteadiness in the top notes.

Thankfully, those reservations are largely absent here. Hilz is a singer whose art has grown and deepened significantly, both technically and interpretively, in the intervening years. His voice is not one of the first rank for opulence and beauty; it is soft-grained and fairly small, a bit diffuse at the top, and when pushed beyond mezzo forte it can display an incipient beat. However, the breath support in all registers is now noticeably improved; the overall sound now has more body, and the low register a pleasing burr; the legato is properly sustained, the grupetti and grace notes well negotiated, the diction immaculate. Most notably, there is a self-effacing naturalness and inviting intimacy to his delivery; he is entirely at the service of the music, rather than the other way around. It is all too rare that one’s attention is drawn so much to what is being sung, and so little to who is singing it, which is as high a compliment as one can pay to an artist. This is not to say that interpretive art is lacking; whereas the renditions in the 2L disc were rather foursquare, here there is great subtlety and rich inflection, showing how deeply Hilz has immersed himself in these works. Note for example in Vorbei how neatly he threads a sustained pianissimo line in his higher register, or how adeptly he negotiates all the rapidly shifting and contrasting moods of Der Soldat . Moreover, compared with his previous recording the tempi are all slightly more relaxed, allowing the music to breathe and be savored. Brilliant Classics is to be commended on rerecording these songs and thereby providing these splendid new renditions, rather than simply relicensing the previous 2L recordings.

While Hilz has the lion’s share of this recital, plaudits are likewise due to soprano Susanne Winter, who sings seven of the songs ( Meine Mutter hat’s gewollt and Waltrauts Lied I & II from the op. 11, Solveg’s Lied from the op. 12, and Die Lerche, Des Kindes Schlaf , and Die Elfe from the six published Eichendorff Lieder). Hers is a light, sweet soprano of crystalline texture, one that would be perfectly suited to the finale of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. While Hilz now has a considerable discography, the only previous release I can locate for her is a Rondeau CD from 2000 of Bach cantatas; let’s hope that she gets more exposure. The same can be said of pianist Katia Bouscarrut, who apart from her Lieder recitals with Hilz of Walter and Schumann (reviewed elsewhere in this issue) has to her credit only a disc of chamber music by Eberhard Klemmstein. She too has grown in her art, and is almost the star of the show here; her playing is simply masterly, with sumptuous sound, a wondrous palette of dynamics and tonal colors, unerringly right choice in tempi, and a wonderfully subtle command of rhythm and rubato. The recorded sound is warmer and less bright and exposed than on the previous 2L CD, which is all to the good. Complete texts and translations are provided, along with an informative essay, and all at a budget price. While I would not do without Bell’s excellent recital, this disc is not only absolutely essential for all Walterians, but urgently recommended to all lovers of Romantic-era Lieder.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

Lieder (6), Op. 11 by Bruno Walter
Performer:  Christian Hilz (Baritone), Susanne Winter (Soprano), Katia Bouscarrut (Piano)
Lieder (6), Op. 12 by Bruno Walter
Performer:  Christian Hilz (Baritone), Susanne Winter (Soprano), Katia Bouscarrut (Piano)
Lieder (6) by Bruno Walter
Performer:  Christian Hilz (Baritone), Susanne Winter (Soprano), Katia Bouscarrut (Piano)
Im Volkston by Bruno Walter
Performer:  Christian Hilz (Baritone), Susanne Winter (Soprano), Katia Bouscarrut (Piano)

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