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CD Reviews: Goerne and Eschenbach's Brahms / 'Dinorah'

Charles T. Downey, CD reviews: Eschenbach and Goerne take on somber Brahms
Washington Post, August 6

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Brahms, Lieder und Gesänge, M. Goerne, C. Eschenbach

(released on May 27, 2016)
HMC 902174 | 55'49"
When the baritone Matthias Goerne has been a guest with the National Symphony Orchestra in recent years, he has performed fine lieder recitals with Christoph Eschenbach at the piano, a collaboration preserved on a series of recordings for Harmonia Mundi. The latest release is devoted to Johannes Brahms, and Goerne’s intense, almost overbearing approach works beautifully in these often gloomy songs.

Goerne’s voice, growling and dark-hued, fits aptly with the depressing and bitter “Lieder und Gesänge,” Op. 32, nine songs with poetry alternately by August von Platen and Georg Friedrich Daumer. Eschenbach doesn’t stint on the equally somber accompaniments, in which Brahms lingers often in the bass territory of the keyboard, as in the first track, “Wie rafft’ich mich auf,” and the poem’s repeated statements of “in der Nacht.” In the third song, von Platen’s narrator asks, “Und könnt’ich je / Zu düster sein?” (“And could I ever be too gloomy?”); one can imagine Brahms posing the same question, with a wry smile.

Five of Brahms’s Heinrich Heine songs, selected from the Op. 85 and Op. 96 sets, are something of a breath of fresh air, which is surprising given the ironic bitterness of much of Heine’s poetry. Goerne unfurls with unaffected tenderness the undulating phrases of “Sommerabend” and “Mondenschein,” songs Brahms paired through key choice and harmonic pattern. Eschenbach keeps pace with him at the keyboard, willing to stretch and pull the music wherever Goerne wants to go.

With the “Serious Songs” of Op. 121, composed the year before Brahms died, this disc becomes somber again. Brahms composed these songs on Bible texts with the approaching death of Clara Schumann, whom he had long secretly loved, weighing on his mind. In an informative booklet essay, Roman Hinke quotes a letter written by Brahms around this time: “The thought of losing her can terrify us no longer, not even me, the lonely man for whom there is all too little alive in the world.” The ineffable sweetness of the harmonies in the second stanza of “O Tod, wie bitter bist du” (“O death, how bitter you are”) and the tender sound Goerne coaxes from his top range in these phrases are a glorious, longing embrace of death. Brahms must have thought his own end could not be far off.


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Meyerbeer, Dinorah, ou le pardon de Ploërmel, P. Ciofi, E. Dupuis, P. Talbot, Deutsche Oper Berlin, E. Mazzola

(released on May 13, 2016)
cpo 555014-2 | 133'47"
If Giacomo Meyerbeer is remembered at all these days, it is for his grand operas, larger-than-life tragic works that profoundly influenced Richard Wagner. With this recent release on the CPO label, the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin has revived the most successful of Meyerbeer’s comic operas, “Dinorah, ou le pardon de Ploërmel,” premiered at the Opéra Comique in Paris in 1859.

The work’s three main roles are all cast well in this concert performance, recorded live at the Berlin Philharmonie in 2014. Italian soprano Patrizia Ciofi sounds a little faded and not exactly effortless on the many vocal acrobatics, but she brings a dramatic differentiation of vocal colors to the innocent girl Dinorah. When disaster strikes her father’s farm in the Breton village of Ploërmel, Dinorah goes mad, dancing with her own shadow in a famous scene in Act II. When she makes her entrance in the first act, it is to sing a lullaby to her goat, Bellah, whose appearances are heralded by the ringing of a small bell, always on F sharp.

Baritone Etienne Dupuis has a broad, refined tone as Hoël, the goatherd who was supposed to marry Dinorah but, worried that her father’s loss will leave her destitute, follows a magician who has promised to teach him the secret of obtaining a hidden treasure from the fairies that haunt the local gorge. The best of the trio is tenor Philippe Talbot, who brings a light, airy sound to the comic role of Corentin, a superstitious and cowardly bagpiper. The three are combined beautifully at the end of the first act in the delightful “Terzettino of the Bell,” which also features the goat’s bell and a wind machine.

Enrique Mazzola leads a compact, sharply drawn performance that, with about 20 minutes cut from spoken dialogue and faster tempos, fits on two discs instead of the three in the version recorded by James Judd and the Philharmonia Orchestra two decades ago. Particularly fine playing comes from the horns in the hunting music that introduces Act III, where there is a charming pastoral interlude, mostly unaccompanied and featuring a strong supporting cast. Ciofi, having guarded her vocal resources up to this point, cashes in on the pianissimo high-flying writing in the final scene, when Dinorah’s memory is restored and she joins the prayer of the villagers.
Goerne's Die schöne Müllerin
Goerne's Winterreise

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