on 30 December 2010
Anne Sofie von Otter is one of the most perceptive and imaginative vocal artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Some of her lieder recordings are peerless. This beautifully conceived record is a prime example. The late Romantic harvest of this album is deeply meditative, haunting but also impassioned. The highlight is the 7 Early Songs from Alban Berg, here in repertoire that precedes the atonality for which he became truly renown. There is a chilling effect in the way von Otter drains the voice of all vibrato: but it is so effective that the listening experience is intensified. It's really all very emotive. Other highlights are some of the Strauss songs although your mind can wonder a bit (but Befreit and Wie Sollten wir geheim sie halten are lovely). It is good to have Strauss sung by such an expert and if you enjoyed von Otter's towering Octavian in the Haitink Der Rosenkavalier (amongst other recordings), then you can't go wrong here either. The Korngold songs are very fine too: and both mezzo and pianist reach their peak in the Drei Gesange: Versuchung, which is electrifying. Other songs in the Korngold can be a little jarring on first, second or even tenth hearing, but the performances are immaculate.
The recording is piercingly clear: there is no hint of distortion or distance. Intimately placed, well balanced and atmospheric. The presentation shows why DG is one of the finest labels: there is an informative essay on the music, lovely photos of both composers and artists and full texts with English translation. Another nice touch is information on the artists. I remark on these features because I known as a collector myself I like to know everything about the item I'm purchasing and I always enjoy learning more about the artists who made the recording.
A concluding note: The Listening 'Mood': I bought this album along with the stunningly beautiful Grieg cycle of songs (for which von Otter and Forsberg won a Gramophone Award in 1993) as well as a disc of Sibelius songs. I bought them because I wanted a voice that really summed up the meditative and profound intellectual and artistic stimulation one gets when listening to music at the same time as sleepless nights spent in the pursuit of reading or academic study. In the depth of winter, I found these songs perfectly apt. On the one hand, they are chilling and cool in the solitude of a single voice and the ethereal tone of the piano, especially when the mood is dark - as in In meine innige Nacht. On the other they are heat-warming considering the unmatched intimacy of a singer and piano partnership. Especially when they are this good.