MusicWeb International
Roy Westbrook
Freudvoll und leidvoll - Songs
Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch used the lockdown of 2020 to make this recording devoted to Franz Liszt, a composer for whom both feel an affinity and whose music has long featured in their shared concert career. The Petrarch Sonnets have been in Kaufmann’s repertory for many years, while Die Loreley, O lieb, solang du lieben kannst and Es muss ein Wunderbares sein have often provided encores. Others were new to him, as he says:

”I’m very pleased that our enforced rest made this album possible – under normal circumstances it would probably not have come into existence quite so quickly. As a result we were able to record not only those Liszt songs that we had already tried out in the concert hall but also a number of others that until now have been overshadowed by Liszt’s ‘great hits’.”

Helmut Deutsch says in his intriguing booklet note that he has long hero-worshipped Liszt (so it is not just me, then!) and for whom “Liszt deserves to occupy a leading place in the history of the art song.” If he is not quite there yet, such advocacy as we hear on much of this CD will surely help.

The programme is a good one, combining a good number of recital favourites with a few less familiar items, and acknowledging Liszt’s habit of revisiting a song with a new version of his setting, or revisiting a poem with a largely new setting. Thus the title poem, Freudvoll und leidvoll, is given in two ‘versions’ but the second is practically a new setting, using a piano figure from the first version to drive a swifter more dramatic account, a minute shorter. Both are persuasively sung and played and each is welcome.

At the close of the recital we are given settings of both of Goethe’s Wanderers Nachtlied I and II. But where Schubert retains Goethe’s title, Liszt uses the first line of each poem as his title. The first Nachtlied thus becomes Der du vom dem Himmel bist, and the first version has a climax with much repetition of the last line “komm, ach, komm in meiner Brust” marked com somma passione (‘with great passion’). A third version from eighteen years later replaces all those passionate repetitions with a simple quiet pathos. Again these are different enough for both to be welcome and a fascinating illustration of Liszt’s long engagement with the same text.

The centre piece of the recital are the Three Petrarch Sonnets, also very passionate pieces with taxing vocal lines, and Deutsch and Kaufmann are unapologetic in placing them in the opera house rather than recital room, even at the expense of the tenor making a couple of moments sound rather effortful. But Liszt the songwriter is rarely concerned with the good musical manners of the Lied tradition he admired so much in Schubert and Schumann. The performers’ approach to these supreme love songs is surely to be preferred to some pallid emasculation of such high romantic ambition.

Kaufmann does not stint on the volume in louder moments, although much of the recital is focussed on quieter lyrics, including such famous numbers as Es muss ein Wunderbares sein and O Lieb so lang du lieben kannst, both well executed. One critic has referred to “crooning” in Kaufmann’s singing of some pieces, another to a “Helden-whisper”, but I hear rather the intimate mezza-voce, with many of the nuances of weight and colour, required to put this music across. His singing of Im Rhein, im schönen Strome is just one case in point, a poetic evocation of Heine’s lyric and Liszt’s musical treatment of it. In another famous song, Die Loreley, at the end of the second stanza the word Abendsonnenschein (‘evening sun’) shows immaculate control of a tricky line.

Of course this is a song recital by an operatic star, and some collectors will seek it out in that spirit. They will not be disappointed. Those requiring a vocal manner that remains firmly in the recital room or a domestic setting will find many of these pieces on the volumes of the ongoing complete edition of Liszt’s songs currently available from Hyperion. But for a passionate, individual approach to a fine programme, this too will hold a place in the growing Liszt song catalogue.

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