Thursday 17 October 2013

Ludwig Thuille: Songs

Ludwig Thuille: Songs - CHRCD063
Rarely do I find myself discovering music that is entirely new to me. But Ludwig Thuille (1861 - 1907), the composer of these lovely songs, was a name that was unfamiliar. An older contemporary of Richard Strauss's, his music seems to have dropped out of circulation; so much so, that his Lieder are not in print at the moment. On this disc Sophie Bevan, Mary Bevan and Jennifer Johnston sing a selection of Thuille's lieder accompanied by Joseph Middleton.

Thuille was born in Bozen, part of the Tyrol when Thuille was born but now part of Italy. He studied first in Innsbruck, where he met Richard Strauss who became a life-long friend and then with Josef Rheinberger in Munich. It was in Munich that he made his second home, forming what became known as the Munich school with Strauss and with Max Schillings. It is puzzling why Thuille's songs have not remained in currency, Joseph Middleton's excellent article in the CD booklet offers no illumination here, but perhaps Thuille's early death in 1907 at the age of 46 rather contributed to it.

Whilst the voice of Richard Strauss can inevitably be heard in the songs, there are also other influences notable amongst them being Robert Schumann for whose work Thuille had a great love. He remained a fairly conservative composer and the songs on this disc never achieve the daring that some of Strauss's do. But Thuille remains and interesting voice, and a neglected strand in the history of the German lied.

The disc opens with Thuille's three Eichendorff settings Drei Lieder fur drei Frauenstimmen solo, Op. 31, for the unusual combination of three women's voices and piano. These are a lovely way to start the disc and if they don't get you interested in Thuille's art then nothing will. The two Bevan sisters and Jennifer Johnstom combined perfectly in Thuille's lovely textures. This is Romanticism at its latest, with hints of Wolf and early Berg. The songs sound quite taxing and the three singers display fine control and beautiful blend.

Johnston sings the Drei Lieder, Op. 12, these set poems by Heinrich Leuthold, Herman von Gilm and Richard Dehmel, all three are about night, dark and stillness. The first Waldeinsamkeit (Woodland Solitude) introduces a rather Expressionist piano and then adds a rather Strauss like vocal line to it to create a rather contemplative whole. Johnston sings with a beautiful sense of line and intensity; she and Middleton create a magical feeling of space. The second Die Nacht (The Night) consists of a single intent vocal line with a moving accompaniment, in a performance which is intense and coolly beautiful. Finally, Die stille Stadt (The Silent Town) is dark and dramatic with a haunting melody which Johnston sings with a burnished and finely moulded line.

Sophie Bevan is the soloist in the Funf Lieder Op. 19, which set poems by Joseph von Eichendorff, Theodor Storm, Otto Julius Bierbaum plus two songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. As the inclusion of Des Knaben Wunderhorn suggests, these songs are part of Thuille's interest in encouraging the composition of folk-like lieder, German music for the home. Die Kleine (The Little Girl) is a charming piece, sung with lightness and clear tone by Bevan. Sommermittag (Summer Noon) is quieter and a rocking motion in the piano but with interesting chromatic moments. Die Narren Regenlied (The fool's song of the rain) has a lovely slow chromatic melody with the whole giving hints of Faure. Frau Nachtigall (Mistress Nightingale) starts with a mysterious, rather exotic piano opening, much trilling suggests the nightingale, and though there are Berg-like hints it is in the evocation of the bird that the song's charm lies. Spinnerlied (Spinning song) is a light, characterful piece with great narrative charm, and Bevan nicely differentiates the two characters, the mother and daughter.

Sophie Bevan returns as the soloist in Drei Madchenlieder nach Gedichten von Wilhelm Hertz, Op. 36. some of the latest pieces on the disc dating from 1906. They seem to be more consciously melodic songs, with a definite sense of a lilt to them. Mein Engel, hute Dein (Let my angel protect you) is a lyric, almost popular melody which Bevan sings with a lovely bright tone. Letzte Wunsch (Last Wish) is similar, with a rather fascinating cast to the melody. The final song, Komm, susser Schlaf (Come, sweet sleep) is a complex, romantic song given a nicely seductive tinge by Bevan.

The first disc ends with Johnston singing Thuille's Drei Lieder nach Gedichten con Clemens Brentano, Op. 24 written in 1902. Wenn die Sonne weggegangen (When the sun has departed) is a slow conversational but rising to romantic moments. Johnston sings with a lovely power and intensity combined with a good shape to the vocal line. Die Spinnerin Lied (The Spinster's song) is a busy, complex piece to which Johnston brings passion and lyricism. Finally Ich wollt' ein Struasslein binden (I meant to make you a posy) is an attractive, rather narrative poem and by now we are starting to recognise Thuille's style.

The second disc opens with Sophie Bevan singing Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Otto Julius Bierbaum, Op 15. Madchenlied (A maiden's song) is again a charming narrative song with strong hints of Richard Strauss. Sehnsucht (Longing) is quietly intense with a vocal line which is fascinating, but which wanders a bit, though with a very intent piano part. Finally the lively and characterful Lied der jungen Hexe (Young witch's song).

Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Eichendorff, Op. 26 are sung by Johnston. In Zauberblick (A magical gaze) she provides a lovely long melancholy line, with focussed beauty of tone. Der traurige Jager (The sad hunter) is a dark and exotic piece, the simple but brooding vocal line contrasting with the more complex piano. Seliges vergessen (Blissful oblivion) has a lovely rippling piano accompaniment with a nice lilt to the vocal part.

Funf Lieder Op.4 are the earliest pieces on the disc, dating from 1878 - 1886 and here sung by Sophie Bevan. Thuille sets texts by Otto Gensichen, Herman Lingg, Wilhelm Osterwald, Hermann von Gilm and Robert Hamerling. Gruss (Greeting) is a pleasant piece, full of lyric charm. In Die Verlassene (The abandoned one) we get more complex chromatic romanticism with hints of Schumann. Im Mai (In May) features more rippling piano accompaniment with a characterful vocal line which develops into really passion. Allerseelen (All Souls Day) is familiar from Richard Strauss's setting, here Thuille makes it rather touching. Finally Ganymed is full of nicely intent passion.

The disc closes with Sophie Bevan singing Drei Frauenlieder von Karl Stieler Op. 5 from 1889. Klage (Lament) is rather Brahmsian, quiet with a lovely piano part. Sommermorgen (Summer morning) is full of passion and bravura. Finally Es Klingt der Larm der Welt (The world Clamours) brings things to a lovely close.

Throughout the disc the performances from Sophie Bevan, Jennifer Johnston, Mary Bevan are exemplary, especially bearing in mind that with repertoire as rare as this, everything had to be learned from scratch. They are well supported by Joseph Middleton who makes a sympathetic accompanist.

Joseph Middleton contributes an article which sheds plenty of light on the background to Thuille and his songs, and there are full texts and translations. The set might seem slightly under time-wise, the two CD's total under 90 minutes, but it has been priced accordingly with 2 CD's for the price of one. Evidently it was intended as a single CD, but Middleton unearthed so many songs that they decided to record them all.

I have to confess that I was drawn to this disc intitially not by the repertoire, but by the performers; I enjoyed Middleton's disc with Amanda Roocroft and have appreciated the work of Sophie and Mary Bevan and Jennifer Johnston in the concert hall. Here they convinced me to consider Thuille's songs, bringing the composer's work to life in a striking manner.  Whilst I applaud the opportunity to have so many of Thuille's songs available on disc, I have to confess that I will be dipping in an out of the recital. Thuille's style, so close to Strauss yet so different, is quite distinctive but I am not sure that every song here is a gem and ironically it seems to be the simpler ones which come off best, when Thuille is not trying so hard.

If you are interested in the later history of the German lied and would like to go beyond Wolf, Strauss and Berg, then do try this set. You will not be disappointed.

Ludwig Thuille ( 1861 - 1907) - Songs
Drei Lieder fur drei Frauenstimmen solo nach Gedichten von Joseph von Eichendorff Op.31 (1904)
Drei Gesange Op.12 (1898)
Funf Lieder Op.19 (1901)
Drei Madchenlieder nach Gedichten von Wilhelm Hertz Op.36 (1906)
Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Clemens Brentano Op.24 (1902)
Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Otto Julius Bierbaum Op.15
Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Eichendorff Op.26
Funf Lieder Op.14 (1878-1886)
Drei Frauenlieder von Karl Stieler Op.5 (1889)
Sophie Bevan (soprano)
Mary Bevan (soprano)
Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano)
Joseph Middleton (piano)

Recorded 10-13 March 2013, 4-5 October 2013, the Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex.
CHAMPS HILL RECORDS CHRCD063 2CD's [50.32, 37.52]

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