Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake: "LISZT: The Complete Songs, Vol. 2"
Notes, texts and translations. Hyperion CDA 67934
Angelika Kirchschlager's live recitals have demonstrated her affinity for the songs of Franz Liszt and her ability to span the theatrical and meditative extremes of his artistic range. A studio recording inevitably lacks some of the freewheeling, spontaneous spirit of the mezzo's work in the concert hall, but she compensates with polish and beauty of tone in such quiet favorites as "Ihr Glocken von Marling" and "Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam," and she brings any number of vivid effects, and some excusable overacting, to Liszt's spirited King of Thule ballad and his Roma-flavored "Die drei Zigeuner."
The presence of so many Liszt stand-bys and the level of performance make this second installment in the Hyperion series an ideal sampler for anyone curious about the repertoire but reluctant to acquire the full four- or five-disc set. Volume 1, which paired the same accompanist with tenor Matthew Polenzani, is, for all its merits, somewhat less representative (OPERA NEWS, February 2011).
Pianist Julius Drake plays strongly and takes a well-balanced approach for the most part, supporting the singer flexibly in her intense focus on mood and character. She excels in dramatic vignettes, such as "Vergiftet sind meine Lieder" or "J'ai perdu ma force et ma vie," in which she can simmer or explode in what seems like instinctive identification. In her forceful "Freudvoll und leidvoll," for instance, one finds little of the shrewd subtlety of a Barbara Bonney, the eloquent consonants registered by Brigitte Fassbaender or the restless probing done by Diana Damrau (in her more recent Liszt recital on Virgin Classics). Kirchschlager is less detail-prone than those singers, not to mention the studious male interpreters such as Hampson and Quasthoff; yet she invests strong material with beauty and a human quality, both irresistible.
A listener may thank Kirchschlager for not taking Liszt too literally in the most obscure item on the program, a faux-naïve exercise in Marian piety (the two songs of the "Muttergottes-Sträusslein zum Mai-Monate," a floral offering to the Virgin Mary in the month of May). Kirchschlager's timbre is just too mature and sensuous to capture the innocence the composer requested; the tension in her portrayal is more interesting. Another rarity here, "Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher" (Joan of Arc at the stake), is a disappointment, but the fault lies with Alexandre Dumas Sr.'s anemic text and the plodding treatment by Liszt.
Hyperion's Liszt collection sheds light on the composer's long-term development by exploring his tendency, as he aged, to rewrite his songs (as often as three times in some cases). Polenzani and Drake, on Volume 1, performed the first Liszt treatment of Heine's poem "Im Rhein, im schönen Strome" (better known from Schumann's Dichterliebe); here, Kirchschlager and the pianist offer the second edition of the same song, and what a difference! The wet, rhapsodic, "Lisztean" arpeggios are gone, the vocal line is more horizontal, the mood now reflective, free of vivid surface effects.
Like Chopin, Liszt was fascinated at one time by bel canto style; later he befriended and admired Wagner — and something of that contrast is reflected in the early and late Liszt styles. The Kirchschlager disc is bookended by two different takes on Goethe's "Der du von dem Himmel bist," which have little in common but the text. The mezzo is apparently more comfortable with the early, quasi-Schubertian version (dated 1842), which highlights her warm, compelling legato. Her recital closes less satisfactorily with Liszt's radical 1860 rewrite, in more of a Hugo Wolf through-composed mode, and here we could wish that the singer and accompanist had probed further and given more resonance and edge to this skeleton of a song.
The best corrective is to return to another Goethe–Liszt classic, "Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh," in which these artists magically mingle depth and quiet.
DAVID J. BAKER
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