Wednesday, 5 December 2012

CD review - Open your eyes

CHRCD046 - Open Your Eyes - Katherine Broderick - Cover
For her recital disc with Malcolm Martineau, Open your eyes, soprano Katherine Broderick has chosen lieder from the turn of the 19th century, with Richard Strauss's Acht Gedichte aus 'Letzte Blätter' Op 10, Alban Berg's Sieben frühe Lieder and Arnold Schoenberg's Brettl Lieder. The Strauss songs include Zueignung, his first published song. The songs illustrate the way that the lied was changing at this period. Rather neatly, Strauss was 10 years older then Schoenberg, whilst Schoenberg was 9 years older than Berg. There are other linkings, with Schoenberg's songs related to the Überbrettl cabaret, founded by the librettist of Richard Strauss's early opera Feuersnot.


Broderick won the Kathleen Ferrier Award in 2007. She studied at the National Opera Studio, and Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and she is currently a member of ENO's Young Singers programme. Her recent selection of roles (Donna Anna, Orlinde and Helmwige in Die Walküre, Woglinde in Götterdämmerung) seem to indicate a trajectory towards the dramatic soprano repertory. In fact the dramatic soprano Jane Eaglen recorded a recital disc which coupled the Berg songs with Richard Strauss.

Broderick has a bright forward voice with a sweet tone and a warm vibrato. She has quite a narrow focus which is welcome in what is potentially a big voice. She opens with the Richard Strauss songs which set poetry by Hermann von Gilm from a collection called Letze Blätter. The songs date from 1885 and were seemingly inspired by Dora Wihan, a married woman with whom Strauss seems to have had some sort of emotional involvement.

We start with a nicely impassioned account of Zueignung (Dedication), one of the best known song in the set. In Nichts (Nothing) Broderick is suitably ecstatic, though with traces of hardness in the tone at the top. By the time we get to Die Nacht (Night) the virtues of her performance are becoming apparent, with a fine sense of line to the sings complemented with a nicely focused tone which can expand in the more ecstatic moments. In both Die Nacht and Die Georgine (the Dahlia) she shades the tone down for some ravishing high notes. The passion in Die Georgine is certainly not unbridled but nicely controlled. Geduld (Patience) is quiet and intense, developing to a lovely climax with fine line and shape.


Whilst Geduld is a lyrically melodic song, Die Verschwiegenen (the Discreet Ones) is rather expressionist; a short song given a dramatic performance by Broderick and Martineau. Die Zeitlose (Meadow Saffron) equally short, and though more lyrical it has a slightly evasive quality as if the underlying song was evading the words' meaning.  Finally, Allerseelen (All Souls Day) the other song from the group which is regularly performed. Perhaps we could have had less melody and more words, but Broderick sings with delightful intimacy. Whilst Broderick sings with a nicely focused tone and fine line, there is also nice vibrancy to her tone. She is well supported by Martineau's find playing and the performances are most appealing.

Written in 1905-1908, Berg's Sieben frühe Lieder were only published in 1928 when he wanted some music to capitalise on the success of Wozzeck. The songs form a fascinating link to the Strauss, being in Berg's early style. But from the first notes of the piano in Nacht (Night) it is clear that we are in a different world. Broderick sings Nacht with a superb lyrical line and controlled rapture with some lovely high quiet singing. This continues into Schilflied (Song amid the Reeds) where Martineau produces some magical piano playing.

With Die Nachtigall (The Nightingale) the lyrical beauty of the song almost approaches Strauss, which Broderick clearly responds to. Traumgekrönt (Dream Crowned) is more meandering, darker and Broderick shows impressive control with the beautifully floated high ending. The final three songs Im Zimmer (Indoors), Liebesode (Ode to Love) and Sommertage (Summer Days) show the same virtues of beauty of line, with fine control to the voice. As in the Strauss, there is till an underlying vibrancy, but the  high lying lines are sung with a surprisingly slender (and lovely) tone and only moments of refulgence..

Schoenberg's Brettl Lieder were published in 1904. The texts for three of the songs were taken from Otto Julius Bierbaum's book Deutsche Chansons, subtitled Brettl Lieder. Bierbaum was in face a poet favoured by Strauss. The subtitle of his book referred to the Überbrettl  cabaret which had been founded by Ernst von Wolzogen (librettist of Feuersnot). Bierbaum and the composer Oscar Straus were both involved with the Überbrettl.  Schoenberg's involvement was minimal, his piano playing skills were too limited, and his Brettl Lieder were effectively a commercial proposition. The remaining texts are from a variety of sources including Franz von Wedekind and Emmanuel Schikaneder.

In Galathea (with its text by Wedekind) though the song is rather expressionist there are hints of what are almost tunes. Broderick's delivery suggests sprechstimme at times, without ever completely losing the melody. Gigerlette is closer in style to cabaret, and Broderick points up the words nicely though there are hints of waywardness in the top of the voice.

You feel that the vocal line in Der Genügsamerliebhaben (The Contented Lover) could almost come from one of Strauss's songs, though the piano is clearly Schoenberg. Broderick brings out the song's oddly suggestive nature (with its descriptions of the lover stroking her cat). She gives the daft narrative of Einfältigeslied (Silly Song) and Broderick has a lovely way of edging the vocal line towards sprechstimme. She delivers the song with a clear sense of drama, and fun!

Jedem das Seine (Each to his own) continues the dance rhythms and Broderick and Martineau give it a delightfully sleazy feel. Fun returns with the setting of Emmanuel Schikaneder's Arie aus dem Spiegel von Arcadia - Langsam Walzer (Aria from the Mirror of Arcady - Slow Waltz). This is perhaps the most cabaret-like of the songs, complete with a silly refrain. The fun continues into craziness with Nachwandler (Night walkabout) as the performers are joined by trumpet, drum and flute do create a wonderfully demented finale.

The three cycles do no so much display the development of the song, as show three different composers trying to explore what exactly song was. Both Berg and Schoenberg would move away from their early styles, though Schoenberg retained a fondness for popular culture. But Strauss, though he experimented, remained in roughly the same place.

The booklet includes a useful article about the songs by Richard Stokes along with full texts and translations.

Broderick shows great versatility in addressing the various styles that the songs on this disc require.She brings both vibrancy and sensitivity to them, displaying some fine technical control. She is fantastically supported by Malcolm Martineau. The performances are surprisingly engaging, contrary to what a casual observer might expect from Berg and Schoenberg. Definitely a CD to be recommended.

Open your eyes
Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) - Acht Gedichte aus 'Letzte Blätter' Op.10
Alban Berg (1885 - 1935) - Sieben frühe Lieder
Arnold Schoenberg (1874 - 1951) - Brettl Lieder
Katherine Broderick (soprano)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Recorded 1-4 April 2011 at the Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex
CHAMPS HILL RECORDS CDHCD046 1CD [65.33]

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