Classical CD Reviews

“Das himmlische Leben” = Lieder by LISZT and MAHLER – Anne Schwanewilms, sop./ Charles Spencer, p. – Onyx

A marvelous recital of the highest quality, with some stirring interpretative finesse.

Published on September 27, 2013

“Das himmlische Leben” = LISZT: Der Fischerknabe, S.292 No. 1; Der Hirt, S.292a/2; Der Alpenjäger; O quand je dors (Hugo), S282; Die Lorelei; MAHLER: Urlicht (orig. in Des Knaben Wunderhorn); Rheinlegendchen (Des Knaben Wunderhorn); Um schlimme Kinder artig zu machen (Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit); Verlorne Müh’ (Des Knaben Wunderhorn); Ich ging mit Lust (Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit); Ablösung im Sommer (Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit); Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen (Des Knaben Wunderhorn); Nicht wiedersehen (Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit); Das himmlische Leben – Anne Schwanewilms, sop./ Charles Spencer, p. – Onyx 4103, 64:05 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

Anne Schwanewilms is one of today’s leading Wagner/ Strauss sopranos. My previous acquaintance with her is in a radiant performance of Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi.  Tom Gibbs also found her portrayal “magnificent” as the Marschallin in a video production of Der Rosenkavalier.  This is my first exposure to her in her familiar repertory, and it is a pleasure from first to last.

Liszt’s songs are consistently underrated, but few of the middle Romantics could set a text as effectively as he could. His combination of mystical propriety and controlled emotion make for powerful utterances that are quite stirring without being overt or blatant. Schwanewilms is extremely effective in her choice of songs here, and if I have one complaint about this album it’s that more Liszt songs were not included—there was lots of room (about 16 minutes).

The Mahler pieces are quite well-known and everyone has their favorites—these are very likely to become new ones. Mahler never set truly good poetry; his feeling was that music would do nothing but detract from something already perfect. Of course he knew other composers who took the opposite tact, so one has to wonder whether he was simply trying to justify setting something that had particular appeal to him, even on a “lower” level like the Wunderhorn cycle. Mahler’s renditions have now, in the light of history, elevated those works far above their original value, and it’s hard to divorce them from Mahler’s magnificent music. He in effect immortalized many of the texts he used.

Schwanewilms is fabulous in the Mahler as well, an extremely controlled instrument that is able to vary expression by simple inflection or slight change of vibrato. Her range is solid from top to bottom, and he ability to manipulate the words into something meaningful and expressive is remarkable; she reminds me in many ways of Cecelia Bartoli, in completely different repertory. Charles Spencer once again proves himself an accompanist extraordinaire and partners with effectiveness and a high degree of subtlety. This is an outstanding album that is mandatory for lieder lovers everywhere.

—Steven Ritter




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