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The Songs of Johannes Brahms

Volume One

Von ewiger Liebe, Op. 43 No. 1
Lieder (7), Op. 48
O komme, holde Sommernacht, Op. 58 No. 4
Dämmrung senkte sich von oben, song for voice & piano, Op. 59 No. 1
Auf dem See, Op. 59 No. 2
Meine Liebe ist grün, Op. 63 No. 5
Wenn um den Hollunder, Op. 63 No. 6
Scheiden und Meiden, Op. 19, No 2
In der Ferne, Op. 19, No. 3
Salome, Op. 69 No. 8
Abendregen, Op. 70 No. 4
Therese, Op. 86 No. 1
Feldeinsamkeit, Op. 86 No. 2
Nachtwandler, Op. 86 No. 3
Über die Heide Op. 86 No. 4
Versunken, Op. 86 No. 5
Bei dir sind meine Gedanken, Op. 95 No. 2
Beim Abschied, Op. 95, No. 3
Der Jäger, Op. 95 No. 4
Da unten im Tale (No. 6 from Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO. 33)
Soll sich der Mond nicht heller scheinen (No. 35 from Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO. 33)
Feinsliebchen, du sollst mir nicht barfuß gehen (No. 12 from Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO. 33)
Och Moder, ich well en Ding han! (No. 33 from Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO. 33)

Angelika Kirchschlager & Graham Johnson

Hyperion CDJ33121 [69 mins; recorded 2008]

Readers who collected Graham Johnson's Schubert disc by disc, and savoured his detailed analyses of each song, will experience a frisson of anticipation with the first release of an equivalent collection of the complete Brahms.

The format is the same as for Schubert. The texts and English translations are given first, separately for each song, followed by Johnson's extensive commentary, which often takes much longer to read than the song to hear. My practice is to start with the music, and maybe steal a surreptitious glance to skim Johnson's take on it, coming back later to read the analyses thoroughly one by one before rehearing the performance; tripling the 70 mins given playing time...

A collector's plus is that more of the Brahms songs will be unknown than in Schubert's case, so every volume will have discoveries to make.

Kirchslager is a perfect choice to begin the series *, as Janet Baker had been for Schubert a decade ago. Angelika's mezzo voice is mellifluous and comforting to bring into your sitting room. Attentive to the meanings of every line, but not overly dramatic, she sustains attention through the whole recital easily.

Again and again, guided by Johnson in words and at the keyboard, there are moments of heightened appreciation of Brahms, a consummate lieder composer even though complete live recitals of his songs are so rare that I don't remember any. Perhaps this series will help to redress that balance?

Only about ten volumes will be needed, as against nearly 40 of Schubert's, savoured one by one as they came out, and re-reviewed in 2005 with the songs re-ordered chronologically as a huge, heavy boxed set, delivered in person by the Executive Producer to save a heavy postage charge!

Perhaps for Brahms, ten years and more on, Hyperion may consider for the future Nimbus' mp3CD format, inaugurated so successfully with their complete Haydn symphonies and Bach organ music compact boxed collections?

Sample Kirchschlager & Johnson in substantial extracts on line. Recommended as an essential purchase.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* Angelika Kirchschlager's sold out Wigmore Hall recital gave unalloyed, uncomplicated pleasure - - a beautiful woman with a beautiful, characterful mezzo voice, notably relaxed and comfortable on the recital platform which she made her own, taking the audience to right and left into her confidence with free movements and expansive but unexaggerated gesture.


Volume Two

Christine Schäfer (soprano) & Graham Johnson (piano)

Hyperion CDJ33122

Juchhe! (No. 4 from Sechs Gesänge, Op. 6)
Wie die Wolke nach der Sonne (No. 5 from Sechs Gesänge, Op. 6)
Die Mühle, die dreht ihre Flügel
Die Liebende schreibt (No. 5 from Fünf Lieder, Op. 47)
Wenn du nur Zuweilen lächelst (No. 2 from Acht Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 57)
Es träumte mir (No. 3 from Acht Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 57)
Ach, wende diesen Blick (No. 4 from Acht Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 57)
Strahlt zuweilen auch ein mildes Licht (No. 6 from Acht Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 57)
Die Schnur, die Perl' an Perle (No. 7 from Acht Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 57)
Regenlied, WoO23
Regenlied (No. 3 from Acht Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 59)
Nachklang (No. 4 from Acht Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 59)
Ophelia-Lieder (5), WoO posth. 22
Klage (No. 1 from Neun Gesänge, Op. 69)
Klage (No. 2 from Neun Gesänge, Op. 69)
Abschied (No. 3 from Neun Gesänge, Op. 69)
Des Liebsten Schwur (No. 4 from Neun Gesänge, Op. 69)
Mädchenlied (No. 6 from Sieben Lieder, Op. 95)
Mädchenlied, Op. 85 No. 3
Mädchenlied, Op. 107 No. 5
Das Mädchen spricht, Op. 107 No. 3
Mädchenfluch (No. 9 from Neun Gesänge, Op. 69)
Das Mädchen (No. 1 from Sieben Lieder, Op. 95)
Gut'n Abend, gut'n Abend, mein tausiger Schatz (No. 4 from Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33)
Gunhilde (No. 7 from Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33)
Nur ein Gesicht auf Erden lebt (No. 19 from Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33)
Schönster Schatz, mein Engel (No. 20 from Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33)
Soll sich der Mond nicht heller scheinen (No. 35 from Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33)
Es wohnet ein Fiedler (No. 36 from Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33)

[Read first Vol 1 below]

Volume 2 consolidates the confident welcome for this important series.

Brahms' songs in their totality are lesser known, and many of them less often performed, than those of Schubert, Schumann and Wolf, and this second volume vindicates the justification for an intégrale, especially one in the reliable hands of Graham Johnson.

Suffice here to confirm that this disc finds Christine Schäfer in fine voice, her singing as intelligent as one has come to expect of her. We have a wide range of songs, with several versions of some of the poems set, e.g.Roth's Rain Song, and it is inclusive enough to even have some charming little Ophelia Songs with accompaniments doubling the voice, which may have just been for rehearsal purposes for a non-professional singer in a play.

For fullest enjoyment, set aside a couple of hours (not necessaril straight off) and settle down comfortably to listen with a pause button on your remote... Then follow each song with its text, and parallel translation if you're not a German speaker, and stop to read Johnson's commentary (maybe afterwards, then listen to the song again?). For us, this provides a fuller experience than hearing them in recital, probably in a darkened hall...

This series is clearly self-recommending and collectors should look out for the successive volumes to be released and, if they can afford them, those of Signum's Complete Poulenc Songs too.

One caveat; for some of us older collectors, with compromised eyesight, the very small print in the booklet is a serious minus, and possibly a false economy? There is so much "meat" in what Johnson writes, that this collectiion should really have been packaged with separate, larger booklets, the whole in a slip-case as do some other companies. But perhaps the accountants ruled that out.

However, for those who have good sound from their computers (mine is in the office), full texts are available on line, with the facility to enlarge the texts to 200% for easy reading...

This is a fair compromise, though it may not lend itself to sociable listening in comfort...

Peter Grahame Woolf

Do click on both above links, please.