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Briefly Noted: Marlis Petersen Eternally Feminine

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Das Ewig-Weibliche (Goethe-Lieder), M. Petersen, J. Springer

(released on March 13, 2012)
HMC 902904 | 58'52"
About the time that this disc was released in the United States, I listened to a live recital by the artists, soprano Marlis Petersen and pianist Jendrik Springer, from the Mozart-Saal of the Wiener Konzerthaus, through the Web site of Austrian radio (Österreichischer Rundfunk). Countless composers have set Goethe's words to song, and Petersen and Springer get top marks here for not selecting any of the expected choices, the songs that get performed all the time. This is true even for some of the most familiar poetry: Gretchen's spinning song is presented in the setting of Richard Wagner, and Mignon's Kennst du das Land in that of Alphons Diepenbrock (1862-1921). Six settings of the poem Wandrers Nachtlied II ("Ein Gleiches") -- which Goethe wrote on the wall of a Thuringian hunting-lodge near Ilmenau on a visit to the Kickelhahn -- punctuate the recital, and apart from the first, by Robert Schumann, none is particularly familiar.

Beyond those few obvious choices, the texts are hardly familiar either, words spoken by or about several Goethe characters: in addition to Gretchen and Mignon, Stella from the 1775 play Stella, Klärchen from Egmont, Suleika from Marianne von Millemer, Philine (also from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre), and Helena in Faust. The composers represented include, besides the expected ones like Robert Schumann, Hugo Wolf, Franz Schubert, and Franz Liszt, names like Ernst Krenek, Walter Braunfels, Wilhelm Kempff, Hans Sommer, Charles Ives, Nicolay Medtner, and Manfred Trojahn. Petersen came onto many American listeners' radar when she served as a whirlwind replacement for Natalie Dessay as Ophélie in Hamlet at the Metropolitan Opera in 2010, but she deserves your attention on her own artistic merits. It is not a voice of infinite warmth and largesse, noteworthy more for its clarity and piercing qualities than being the sort of voice you just want to wrap yourself up in, paired here with the sensitive accompanying of Jendrik Springer.

A faultless sense of intonation and a certain adventurousness make her a natural fit for the challenging music of Manfred Trojahn, which Petersen has championed a number of times. His substantial monologue on the Helen of Troy texts from Faust, composed in 2008 and recorded here for the first time, is a fine contribution to this body of music. It makes a good pairing with the Stella monologue by Krenek that opens the disc, also receiving its first recording along with the Braunfels song Der Trommel gerühret and two of the Wandrers Nachtlied songs. Marlis Petersen will give a version of this recital at Carnegie Hall on October 26, an event unfortunately not being replicated by Vocal Arts D.C. At least not yet.

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