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“Goethe-Lieder: Das Ewig-Weibliche” Lieder on poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, music by various composers
Marlis Petersen (soprano), Jendrik Springer (piano)
Recorded at Teldex Studio Berlin (October 2010) – 58’52
harmonia mundi HMC 902094 – Booklet with essays, texts and translations in German, French and English

Soprano Marlis Petersen has been a longtime collaborator and favorite soloist of renowned conductors Helmuth Rilling and René Jacobs, with several exemplary recordings to her credit. As far as I can tell, however, this is her first solo recital disc and it does not disappoint. For those browsing recent solo vocal recital discs, this one is likely to stand out based on the title and program alone. While not devoted to a single composer, or even a specific time period, this recital is devoted to songs of Goethe’s texts. “The Eternal Feminine,” as championed by the poet, has inspired composers for nearly 200 years, and there is apparently no dearth of material to choose from. The concept of a Goethe-Lieder recital is not new, but in the hands of artists as versatile and potent as Petersen and Springer, it is brilliantly illuminated and highly enjoyable in both content and execution.

The recital coalesces around six settings of “Wandrers Nachtlied,” some famous, and some obscure. The Nicolai Medtner and Charles Ives settings are both standouts on the disc. In perusing the list of composers and titles, there are some intriguing inclusions and some obvious omissions. Given that there is only one Franz Schubert song on the entire disc, the first-rate quality of the selections is even more remarkable. The several 20th century pieces are not only fine songs, but also great vehicles for the artists. The disc opens with a concert aria by Ernst Krenek, “Monolog der Stella,” which is a wonderfully theatrical piece requiring vocal strength, range and dexterity. Likewise, the penultimate piece in the recital, Manfred Trojahn’s “Bewundert viel und viel geschloten,” is quite demanding, with wide leaps at every turn. From the composer’s 2008 setting of fragments from the third act of Faust II, the piece gives Petersen’s dramatic and musical gifts a thorough workout. A theatrical singer in the finest sense of the term, her ease of phrasing, unidiomatic German and unimpeded technique make the music vivid and natural.

What this recital accomplishes, however, is not merely an introduction to lesser-known pieces, but a true exploration of the rich texts of Goethe. How edifying is it to hear Franz Liszt’s setting of “Wandrers Nachtlied” close the disc with its final, but unsettled “Ruhest du auch” (“You too will rest”), or Richard Wagner’s setting of”Meine Ruh ist hin?” Thematically, the most interesting juxtaposition of songs are those set to the familiar Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre texts. On this disc, they receive two obscure treatments from Alphons Diepenbrock (“Kennst du das Land”) and Tchaikovsky (“Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt”) along with other Mignon texts set by Hugo Wolf and Robert Schumann. This snapshot of composers contains a wide breadth of expressive means from the sentimental in Tchaikovsky to the anguished in Wolf. The texts are heard in new lights that are both rewarding and enjoyable. A “Lieder Recital” presented with such imagination is alive and engaging.

Yet all of the innovative programming in the world would not make up for a substandard performance. Happily, there is no danger of that here. Ms. Petersen’s soprano almost defies categorization. It is a light, pleasing sound, but with surprising heft and dramatic authority. Her range is impressive and her agility impeccable. Her sound is grounded in a solid, unmannered technique that allows her alluring tone to freely deliver the texts with remarkable assuredness. It is rare to find a singer of Ms. Petersen’s abilities with such a selfless approach to the music, virtually dissolving the so-called fourth wall. Of course, it does not hurt that her tone is downright beautiful. Jendrik Springer’s accompaniment is technically fine and musically brilliant resulting in an impressive collaborative chemistry with Ms. Petersen. The disc is beautifully packaged and recorded by harmonia mundi. For lovers of Lieder, this disc should be a no-doubt addition to their libraries.

Matthew Richard Martinez




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