Monday 14 October 2013

Powerful stuff - Eisler songs - Matthias Goerne

Eisler songs - Matthias Goerne - HMC 902134
Hanns Eisler is something of a contradictory composer. Described by Schoenberg as his favourite pupil, Eisler then questioned what music was for and aligned himself with the highly politicised Bertholt Brecht. War brought exile and disillusion in Hollywood, but post-war brought further disillusion in Communist East Germany. As such his career can seem something like a template for the career of the artist in the 20th century.

This new disc on Harmonia Mundi from Matthias Goerne follows up on his recording of Eisler's Hollywood Songbook. Here we get songs with piano, played by Thomas Lachner, setting texts by Bertholt Brecht, and written in Eisler's Hollywood years, plus his Ernste Gesange for baritone and strings written just before his death. Here Goerne is accompanied by Ensemble Resonanz.

The Ernste Gesange (Serious Songs) were completed in 1962 a few weeks before his death. The songs are bound up in Eisler's reaction to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Throughout his life Eisler remained convinced of a Communism with a human face, at odds with the repressive Soviet regime.

The songs set texts by Friedrich Holderlin, Berthold Viertel, Giacomo Leopardi, Helmut Richter and Stephan Hermlin. All are short, aphoristic in style, but gone is the wit and irony of the pre-war Eisler. Here he struggles with disillusion and crushed Romanticism.

Holerlin's Prelude and Maxim is tiny, but effective. After a powerful expressionist string introduction, we get a strong recitation from Goerne. This leads almost directly into a setting of Holderlin's Asyl (Refuge), which is quietly lyrical but intense and edgy. Goerne's diction is superb, and these are rather wordy songs. He uses his lovely baritone voice intelligently, singing with lovely focused core and softer edges. The whole cycle is suffused with longing and melancholy.

Traurigkeit (Sadness) opens with quiet strings and an expressive solo violin. Goerne enters with a lyrical vocal line full of unexpected turns, lightly sung. Verzweiflung (Despair) is darkly dramatic and very short, as is the next song An die Hoffnung (To Hope), a lyrical setting which evoked Hindemith. XX. Parteig (20th Party Congress) opens with an interesting ticking figure in the accompaniment and is highly evocative. Komm ins Offene, Freund (Come into the open, friend) is a powerful lyric utterance, indicative of the cycle's serious intent. The final song, Epilog (Epilogue) is full of beautiful resignation. Goerne uses his lovely voice superbly. The setting has surprising hints of Richard Strauss in it. This is a powerful and moving cycle and I cannot understand why it is not better known, perhaps the short aphoristic nature of the songs mitigates against it, but Goerne's performance left me moved and entranced.

Eisler's songs with piano date from his Hollywood years, living in California. Nearly all the songs here set Brecht, and neither man settled happily in the USA, being in. The country but not of it. These songs are not as biting as the pre-war work. Hotelzimmer 1942 (Hotel Room 1942) opens with a long, melancholy piano introduction and quite a late Romantic feel to the vocal line. The song ins short, all of them in the set are rather aphoristic with no tendency to dwell and a certain throw-away fell in the final lines.

Die Flucht (Escape) is more chromatic, with just fragments of Romanticism and an explosion at the end. The next song, An den kelines Radioapparat  (To a portable radio) is rather more folk-ish, though the poem is about a portable radio carried by a refugee so that they can her the 'hated jargon spoken' from the homeland. Again Eisler gives it a throw-away ending.

In die Fruhe (In the early morning) is another piece about a lost homeland, this time with rather an edgy setting particularly the way the voice contrasts with the piano accompaniment. The song is lyrically expressive but with clear serial influences. Fruhling (Spring) combines thoughts of spring with the refugee's hopes, in a delicate song with a chromatic vocal line with whispered high drama.

The curiously named Speisekammer 1942 (Larder 1942) verges on the Romantic with its description of the larder contents but again with a bitter one-liner at the end. Die Heimkehr (Homecoming) is a contemplation of a native town ravaged by bombs. Eisler makes the song surpringly lyric and Goerne's performance is very powerful and intense, all in under two minutes.

In Die Landschaft des Exils (The Landscape of Exile) we are leaving the homeland in the last boat, rendered by Eisler as quite an infectious little rhythm. Und es sing de Finstern Zeiten (And the dark times now continue) is a tiny song, a bitter verse from Brecht given an ironically biting and jaunty tune by Eister, whistling in the dark.

The gloom continues with Uber den Selbstmord (On Suicide), a bleak quiet song with sudden outburst that Matthias Goerne makes very dark. Verfhelte Liebe (Failed Love) sets Heinrich Heine and is full of fragments of Romanticism. Ostersonntag (Easter Sunday) returns to Brecht's words and is equally lyric in feel.

The curiously named Vom Sprengen des Gartens (Of Sprinkling the Gardens) is about refreshing the garden, the naked earth and the weeds as well as the grass. Eisler makes it a lively song with hints of Romanticism in the repeated chords in the piano. The cycle (if that is what it is) finishes with Die Kirchdieb (The Cherry Thief), a little snapshot of a young man stealing cherries, which Eisler concludes with a long and striking piano postlude.

Matthias Goere and Thomas Larcher bring out the best in this cycle, never lingering too long and allowing the wit of the tiny songs to shine through. Throughout Eisler brings a fractured reflection of Romantic German song to create a distinctive personal voice.

Eisler's First Piano Sontat dates from 1922/23 and represents the composer at his most serial, before his music was influenced by the didacticism of Brecht.  Here it is played with precision and passion by Thomas Larcher. The opening movement Allegro is highly charged, expressionist and serial. The Intermezzo: Andante con moto is eerie and quiet, rather threatening. The Finale: Allegro is a lovely movement rather Hindemith-like in its neo-classical clarity combined with edge and serialism.

For the final three numbers were return to the Eisler and Brecht of the 1930's with Lied von der belebenden Wirkung des Geldes (Song of the Stimulating Effect of Cash ) and Ballade vom Wasserrad (Ballad of the Waterwheel) both from Die Rundekopfe and die Spitzkopfe (Round Heads and Pointed Heads), and Solidaritatslied (Solidarity Song). Here Goerne brings out the more cabaret like feel, giving the music great style and shape, whilst bringing a strong edge. I have rarely heard Solidaritätslied performed better.

The booklet includes an article on the music plus full texts and translations.

This is a fascinating disc, which shed further light on the career of Hanns Eisler. He remains somewhat under appreciated, but here Matthias Goerne, Thomas Larcher and Ensemble Resonanz bring out the wit, power and depth in the music

Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Ernste Gesänge (1:21)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Ernste Gesänge: 1. Asyl (2:36)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Ernste Gesänge: 2. Traurigkeit (1:52)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Ernste Gesänge: 3. Verzweiflung (0:47)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Ernste Gesänge: 4. Hoffnung (1:04)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Ernste Gesänge: 5. XX. Parteitag (0:39)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Ernste Gesänge: 6. Komm ins Offene, Freund! (1:43)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Ernste Gesänge: 7. Epilog (2:57)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Hotelzimmer 1942 (1:51)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Die Flucht (0:48)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - An den kleinen Radioapparat (0:48)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - In der Frühe (1:23)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Frühling (1:11)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Speisekammer 1942 (1:07)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Die Heimkehr (1:59)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Die Landschafts des Exils (1:19)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Und es sind die finstern Zeiten (0:24)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Über den Selbstmord (2:21)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Verfehlte Liebe (0:49)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Ostersonntag (1:30)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Vom Sprengen des Gartens (0:57)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Der Kirschdieb (1:18)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Sonate, Op.1: I. Allegro (5:17)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Sonate, Op.1: II. Intermezzo. Andante con moto (3:32)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Sonate, Op.1: III. Finale. Allegro (4:07)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Lied von der belebenden Wirkung des Geldes (4:03)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Ballade vom Wasserrad (3:26)
Hanns Eisler (1898 - 1962) - Solidaritätslied (2:42)
Matthias Goerne (baritone)
Thomas Larcher (piano)
Ensemble Resonanz
Recorded September 2013, February/March 2013 - Hamburg, Friedrich-Ebert-Halle
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902134 1Cd [54.05]

Hanns Eisler - songs; Matthias Goerne, Thomas Larcher, Ensemble Resonanz
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 13 2013
Rating: 4.5

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