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26.10.07

Let Me Sing You a Waltz

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Brahms, Liebeslieder-Walzer, M. Petersen, S. Doufexis, W. Güra, K. Jarnot, C. Berner, C. Radicke
(released on September 11, 2007)
The repertory for piano, four hands, is a delight to play, but it almost seems a shame to record it. If this music were not available in recordings, one could hear it only as it was intended, among a small gathering around the family piano or, even better, only by playing it yourself. (Think of that scene in Richard Taruskin's favorite composer biopic Impromptu where Liszt and Chopin, played by Julian Sands and Hugh Grant, play a four-hands arrangement of a Beethoven symphony.) The same is true of the vocal quartet genre favored by Johannes Brahms, a rarefied kind of Hausmusik and rarely more memorably accomplished than in the Liebeslieder-Walzer, op. 52, eighteen miniatures for various combinations of SATB voices and piano, four hands (later grudgingly released by Brahms in a piano-only version).

This recent release comes about as close to a perfect interpretation of these songs as one might reasonably expect. The quartet is a balanced group, four tasteful and independent voices but no one overpowering, with only the excellent tenor Werner Güra perhaps obtruding slightly from the ensemble by a vibrato-heavy sound. Soprano Marlis Petersen has a light, bell-like tone and floats on top of the ensemble with ethereal presence. Mezzo-soprano Stella Doufexis and baritone Konrad Jarnot round out the quartet with rich colors and somber varnish. Jarnot, who is featured alone on only one song, is a fine Lieder singer who will give a Vocal Arts Society recital later this year (Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, December 3). The piano playing by the duo of Christoph Berner and Camillo Radicke is full-bodied and impressively virtuosic. To round out the disc, the pianists split two other quartet sets by Brahms, the Drei Lieder, op. 64 (Berner), and the Neue Liebeslieder, op. 65 (Radicke). In particular, An die Heimat (To the homeland), from the former set, will not leave a dry German eye in the house.

Harmonia Mundi HMC 901945

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