Saturday 7 September 2013

A fine recording of songs by Korngold and vibrant performances of Busnois on a re-release from Harmonia Mundi on their Musique D’Abord label

Harmonia Mundi  have released further recordings in their Musique D’Abord series of which I have selected two that show the range of music and quality of performance and recording.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) is still known to many only for his film scores, yet from his early days as a child prodigy in Vienna it was classical composition that held his attention. His operas included three written when he was in his childhood and teenage, Der Schneemann (1908-09/1910), Der Ring des Polykrates (1914/1919) and Violanta (1914-1916). These were followed by Die tote Stadt (1920), Das Wunder der Heliane (1927) and Die Kathrin (1939). Towards the end of his life he wrote a musical comedy Die stumme Serenade (1951).

In addition to his operas, as well as choral, orchestral, chamber and piano works, Korngold was a prolific song writer throughout his life from his early Knabe for voice and piano (1905) through to Sonett für Wien (1950).

Harmonia Mundi’s re-release features Dietrich Henschel (baritone) and Helmut Deutsch (piano) performing a fine cross section of Korngold’s songs spanning 1911 to 1953.
HMA 1951780

Zwölf Lieder ‘Op.5 So Gott und Papa will’ (1911) was a set of twelve songs on poems by Josef von Eichendorff, written as a gift for the 14 year old Korngold’s father in 1911 and inscribed as ‘opus 5’ though only three, numbers 1, 2 and 3, were ever published as Opus 9 no’s 1, 2 and 3. They are all performed here beginning with the published Das Standchen where baritone Dietrich Henshel displays a lovely musical voice in the songs, where Korngold gives his usual finely detailed touches that make his songs stand out.

There are many fine performances in this cycle such as Das Mädchen, brilliantly sung with attractive accompaniment from Helmut Deutsch who makes the most of Korngold’s fine piano writing and Schneeglöckchen, a fine song so beautifully controlled. There is a finely phrased Aussicht and Nachtwanderer, with its lovely little descending motif for piano and so passionately sung by Henschel. Vom Berge is so quintessentially Korngold and Waldeseinsamkeit allows Henschel to show the range of his voice with some lovely rich lower notes.

Three more individual Eichendorff songs follow, an attractive Reiselied, a beautiful Vesper with bell like piano accompaniment so finely played and a superb performance from Henschel who draws on every little subtle turn of the music and Die Geniale, short but full of energy and brilliantly done.

Three songs from Sechs einfache Lieder Op.9 (1911-13) follow, adding to those included in the Zwölf Lieder ‘Op.5 So Gott und Papa will’ that were published as Op.9. These are all setting of Louis von Fraenkel-Ehrenstein opening with the beautiful Liebesbriefchen Op.9 No.4 so finely controlled.  Das Heldengrab am Pruth Op.9 No.5 has a lovely piano opening from Deutsch, with Henschel responding to every turn and Sommer Op.9 No.6 makes a lovely conclusion.

Nachts is a setting of Siegried Trebitsch, where Korngold, in his distinctive vocal style, adds so many little chromatic turns.

Vier Lieder des Abschieds Op.14 (1920/21) is these days best known for its orchestral version but is heard here in the original piano version. Sterbelied, a setting of Cristina Rossetti, with its gentle opening, shows all of Herschel’s fine voice right up to the fortissimo ending. In Dies eine kann mein Sehren nimmer fassen, an Edith Ronsperger setting, Henschel brings out so much of the powerful, controlled emotion of the song. Perhaps one of Korngold’s most beautiful songs is Mond, so gehst du wieder auf, a setting of a poem by Ernst Lothar, with Henschel responding so well to all the subtle little shifts and dynamics. Finally in this set there is the lovely Gefaßter Abschied, this time setting words by Ernst Lothar.

Drei Lieder Op.18 (1924), settings of Hans Kaltneker, brings dissonant piano chords in In meine innige Nacht, a dark song, followed the passionate Tu ab den Schmerz, so finely sung and an exuberant Du reine Frau, with a fine piano contribution.

Korngold was living in America in 1948 when he wrote Fünf Lider Op.38 (1948) drawing on music he had used in his film scores. All the songs in this set are in English. I wish you bliss is a lovely song and the following Wings, though attractive in its own way, is not the best. Old Spanish Song, perfectly sung by Henschel, has the feel of a traditional song as does the boisterous Old English Song. With My Mistress’ Eyes we return to a more Korngoldian sound world in this passionately sung setting.

Surely Korngold was pining for his beloved Vienna when he wrote Sonett fur Wien Op.41 (1953). This passionate song, a setting of words by Hans Kaltneker, is given a fine performance.

The comic Die Gansleber im Hause Duschnitz, that follows on this disc is brilliantly done and, at times, bordering on sprechgesang.

Next are two songs from Korngold’s Unvergänglichkelt Op.27, settings of Eleonore van der Straten, Das eilende Bächlein, a lively setting, evoking a flowing river, and the beautifully simple little Das schlafende both beautifully done.

Was du mir bist? a song from Drei Lider Op.22, again setting words by Eleonore van der Straten, concludes this very attractive disc, another lovely, distinctive Korngold song so finely sung and played by these two artists.

This generously filled disc is excellently recorded. There are notes but sadly no texts provided, which is a pity given that so many of the songs are unpublished. Nevertheless this does not detract from the enjoyment of this re-release.

The second re-release is of music by the 15th century French composer, Antoine Busnois (c. 1430-1492). Believed to be a native of Picardy, he studied with Okegham before becoming chaplain at the Cathedral of St. Gatien, Tours. He served at the Court of Bergundy before becoming director of the choir of the church of St Sauveur, Bruges. Featuring The Orlando Consort,  the main work on this disc is Busnois’ Missa O Crux lignum which is framed by a number of Chansons and Motets.

HMA 1957333

In the Motet: Gaude caelestis Domina the voices of the Orlando Consort bring a variety of sounds, elevating this motet with many colours and textures as it moves forward in a flowing, woven tapestry of sound. The Chanson: A une damme j’ay fait veu is a repetitive but attractively woven chanson for three of the Orlando’s voices. The Chanson: Amours nous traitte honnestement/Je m’en voy is a lovely work, with a lightly rhythmic lilt to the music.

Another chanson follows, the Chanson-Motet: Resjois-toy, terre de France/Rex pacificus with some unusual rhythms and phrasing so typical of this composer, making this a particularly attractive piece, terrifically sung by this fine choir. The Hymn: Conditor aime siderum has plainchant alternating with Busnois’ lively rhythmic style.

Centrally placed on this disc is Busnois’ Missa O Crux lignum with a beautifully textured and flowing Kyrie, a densely woven Gloria where, nevertheless, individual voices sound out to great effect, each attractive in their own right and a fast flowing Credo where, as each voice slowly joins, the richness develops beautifully with Busnois knowing just how to develop the intensity. There is a powerful Sanctus with lovely use of voices, a Benedictus where a tenor and countertenor take the lead before the whole Consort joins in, and a more thoughtful Agnus Dei still providing a brilliantly flowing woven sound, sung to perfection.

Of the four pieces that follow the mass there is a Chanson: Ja que li ne s’I attende where three voices weave a lovely line through this fine setting, the Chanson: Vostre beauté/Vous marches du bout du pié, a vibrant, rhythmic, skilfully woven chanson finely sung, and the Chanson: Est-il merchy de quoy on pueut finer? where the three voices of the Orlando Consort perfectly weave a lovely sound, so evocative of a time and place.

Finally the Motet: Incomprehensibilia/Praeter rerum ordinem opens with a tenor voice holding a long held, chant like note against the other voices to great effect in this fine motet. As it continues there is a lovely weaving of voices in this wonderful motet, so beautifully sung and a highlight of the disc.

It is the vibrancy of these performances that adds so much to Busnois’ music. There is a fine recording but again no texts though this is less of a problem with these Latin settings.

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