Saturday 9 November 2013

Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau - Wigmore Hall Live

Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau: Wigmore Hall Live: WHLive0062
This new disc on the Wigmore Hall Live label captures a recital given on 19 July 2012 at the Wigmore Hall by the German soprano Christiane Karg with Malcolm Martineau.  The perform songs by Richard Strauss, Gabriel Faure, Claude Debussy, Francis Poulenc, Hugo Wolf and Alban Berg. They open with songs by Strauss, Faure, Debussy and Poulenc on the subject of flowers, followed by songs by Strauss, Wolf and Berg on the subject of night.

Karg and Martineau open with Strauss' Die erwachte Rose is nicely flowing, with Karg displaying a lovely silvery soprano voice. It is an early song, from Strauss's teens (1880) with a lovely rippling piano part. This rippling continues with Rote Rosen, another early song (1883) which shows that Strauss's melodic gift developed early. Karg and Martineau bring out the charm of the song.

Strauss's four Madchenblumen Op.22 from 1888, originally written for a tenor. The poems are rather coy and not a little fey, but Strauss's response is a delight. Karg brings out out the delicacy and the moments of passion in Kornblumen (Cornflowers). She has a voice which can fine its way right down, whilst still retaining its lovely sense of line, and then grow to moments of passion. Mohnblumen (Poppies) is rather Zerbinetta-like both in the piano and in the vocal line, and Karg is totally delightful describing the teasing capricious poppies Epheu (Ivy) is more mysterious with Wasserose (Water Lily) being the most fascinating with a seductive vocal line supported by a delicate piano part cast as a barcarolle.

Next come three Faure settings of texts by Leconte de Lisle, each with a rose as its theme. Nell (1878) is delicately impassioned, Faure's lovely melody being brought out beautifully. Karg shapes the song's line well, and does not feel the need to do too much. Martineau brings out the transparency of Faure's accompaniment, but this does not mean that the song is cut glass, both he and Karg indicate the passion simmering beneath. In Le Roses d'Isphahan (1884) Karg is all delicate charm and fascination. Finally in this group La Rose an Ancreontic Ode which starts delicately but rises to a light climax at the coming of the Goddess Aphrodite.

Karg and Martineau follow the Faure with two Debussy songs from Ariettes oubliees, early songs setting texts by Verlaine. Green is seductively charming, with Karg and Martineau combining lightness with suggestions of passion. Spleen is finely desolate at the opening, the song gets complex and anxious, but following an intense climax, things return to the mood of the opening.

Finally in this group one of Francis Poulenc's Fiancailles pour rires of 1939. Fleurs sets a poem by Louise Vilmorin and is a slow, haunting bittersweet hymn to lost love, perfectly rendered by Karg and Martineau.

The next Richard Strauss group indicates a change of subject, to that of night. Die Nacht (1885) is slow and dream-like, in a nicely mesmerising performance. Traum durch die Dammerung (Dream into Dusk) is from 1895, a hypnotic and haunting number which Karg and Martineau bring out all the delicacy, whilst rising to moments of passion. Finally Weisser Jasmin (White Jasmine) from 1895 was one of four songs intended for his sister Johanna's wedding present but, unusually Strauss did not finish the setting in time. When it finally came, the resulting song is fluid and fascinating, with a nicely mercurial performance from Karg.

Karg's group of Wolf songs all set texts by Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff, a poet who was a particular favourite of the young Wolf. Verschwiegen Liebe (Silent Love ) from 1888 floats beautifully, in a fine grained performance from Karg and Martineau. Die Nacht (not the same poem as set by Strauss) from 1880 starts with a sinuously chromatic piano introduction, over this Karg's beautifully etched vocal line. She has a lovely ability to imbue a line with a silvery steel edge and then magically evaporate into delicay. Unfall (Mishap) from 1888is in a more comic vein, made charmingly characterful by Karg and Martineau. By contrast Nachzauber (Night Magic) of 1887 is all exotic beauty and hypnotic textures and Wolf evokes the sounds of the night. The result in the hands of Martineau and Karg is sheer magic.

Alban Berg's Sieben fruhe Lieder (Seven Early Songs) were songs from his student years which he assembled as a group in 1938. They do not form a cycle, but each has elements of the overall theme of the night and its power. Nacht (Night) sees us entering Berg's highly perfumed world, with the silvery accuracy of Karg's vocal line lending beauty and a shiver to the song. Schilflied (Reed Song) is more obviously rhythmically flowing, but no less intense. Karg makes Die Nachtigall (The Nightingale) start from delicacy before flowering into intense passion. Traumgekront (Crowned with dreams) is powerful and exotic, Karg making the sinuous vocal line into something rather silvery seductive. Evidently when the song was first performed at a student concert in 1907 its post-Tristan chromaticism baffled, but now it seduces. Im Zimmer (In the room) is more conventional, but nonetheless delightful and you can hear echoes of Strauss in the song. In Liebesode (Ode to Love) Karg makes Berg's angular, chromaticisms seem natural and the song flows beautifully. Sommertage (Summer days) brings us back to Strauss, with some glorious harmonies and delicate rippling in the piano. But all develops into Berg's own particular intensity, with Karg rising gloriously to the climaxes.

There are two encores, Wolf''s Bedeckt mich mit Blumen and Robert Schumann's Du bist wie eine Blume. The first building with slow intensity to a powerfully felt conclusion. the second finely crafted and beautifully shaped.

The CD booklet includes an informative article by Richard Wigmore, plus full texts and translations.

This is a lovely disc, showcasing Karg's intelligent handling of these songs as well as her beautifully silvery voice with a superb sense of control in the vocal line.  Malcolm Martineau accompanies with sympathy and finesse throughout. Highly recommended.

Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) - Die erwachte Rose [2.55]
Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) - Rote Rosen [2.03]
Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) - Madchenblumen, Op.22 [10.12]
Gabriel Faure (1845 - 1924) - Nell Op.18 No.1 [1.49]
Gabriel Faure (1845 - 1924) - Les roses d'Isphahan, Op.39 No.4 [3.06]
Gabriel Faure (1845 - 1924) - La rose Op.51 No.4 [2.45]
Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918) - Green (from Ariettes Oubliees) [2.21]
Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918) - Spleen(from Ariettes Oubliees) [2.18] 
Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) - Fleurs (from Fiancailles pour rire) [3.20]
Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) - Die Nacht Op.10 No.3 [2.53]
Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) - Traum durch die Dammerung Op.29 No.1 [2.49]
Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) - Weisser Jasmin Op.31 No.3 [2.23]
Hugo Wolf (1860 - 1901) - Vershwiegene Liebe [2.26]
Hugo Wolf (1860 - 1901) - Die Nacht [2.39]
Hugo Wolf (1860 - 1901) - Unfall [1.09]
Hugo Wolf (1860 - 1901) - Nachtzauber [4.36]
Alban Berg (1885 - 1935) - Sieben fruhe Lieder [15.15]
Hugo Wolf (1860 - 1901) - Bedeckt mich mit Blumen [3.23]
Robert Schumann (1819 -- 1856) - Du bist wie eine Blume Op. 25 No.24[2.29]
Christiane Karg (soprano)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Recorded 19 july 2012, live at the Wigmore Hall
Wigmore Hall Live WHLive0062 1CD [71.32]

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