9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I cant really hope to add much to the other very comprehensive review, except perhaps to try and communicate just how much pleasure this set has given me. These were a surprise birthday gift from someone who knew my love of Brahms work in other genres, but who probably did not know that I had no prior acquaintance with art song from the Romantic era. I count a few Britten song cycles as old favourites, and have sampled the exotic delights of songs by the likes of Birtwistle and Ligeti, but nothing really at all of the Romantics in this genre. I've had Schubert's famous songs on my wish-list for years, but still haven't got round to doing anything about it. So, this has been completely new territory for me, not just as repertoire, but also as form and genre. And what a delight it has been.
As there is so much material here, contrary to my usual approach, I did not even consider trying to fix the songs in memory. I rather just let them wash over me, trying to savour the transient moods as best I could, and just be grateful for the impressions I was left with. I played each disc maybe two or three times, for the most part on car journeys, for which the relatively even dynamics makes these particularly suitable. As a measure of the enjoyment I have had from these discs, there was an occasion where I had one of them playing on a long journey with my wife. My wife is one of those who, alas, has yet to acquire the requisite comprehension to enjoy classical vocal styles. She said to me "I don't get it, what are you supposed to be feeling while you are listening to this kind of music"? It was one of those curious moments when a simple question seemed to summon up a mountain of contradictory feelings, all the feelings I had experienced so far on my journey through these discs, mixed with a deep gratitude for the whole experience. For some of us, it is wonderful to reflect from time to time, on the centrality of music to our lives, and to be thankful it is so.
With the variety of performers in the set I came to have a new appreciation of vocal artistry, and I arrived at the realisation that each voice is actually a unique world. Any superficial similarities of register are vastly outweighed by the differences in character, tone, shape and other ineffably abstract, almost geometric, parameters and patterns. To really listen to a voice is to go inside a body like one's own, but different, and penetrate to a heart and mind like one's own, but different, an act of challenging intimacy. Particularly striking for me was the voice of tenor Robert Morvai, featured on discs 9 and 11, who combines a firm heroic quality with a touching vulnerability and tenderness. Also, particularly memorable was disc 7, and the sparkling interplay between soprano Letizia Scherrer and alto Franziska Gottwald.
Then there is old Brahms himself. He doesn't loom particularly large here. Perhaps if I were to listen some more and pay more attention to the piano parts I might be able to discern some more essentially Brahmsian qualities in the music. A pianist used to his style and devices might well have a better chance. If I had been asked to identify the composer without foreknowledge I would have been hard-pressed to give a better guess than someone from the late nineteenth century. But then, it is no bad thing that the ego of the composer should stand aside from time to time and allow himself to become a conduit for a limpid and unaffected beauty.
Another bounteous opportunity for pleasure and discovery made affordably available by the redoubtable Brilliant Classics.