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CD Review: Braunfels Lieder

available at Amazon
W. Braunfels, Lieder, M. Petersen, K. Jarnot, E. Schneider

(released on February 12, 2016)
Capriccio C5251 | 55'40"
Charles T. Downey, CD review: The forgotten bird songs of a ‘degenerate’ composer (Washington Post, April 24)
In the 1930s, Walter Braunfels (1882-1954) ran afoul of the Nazi party in his native Germany. His music was condemned as “degenerate” because his father was Jewish, even though the composer was raised a Protestant and later converted to Catholicism. After World War II, Braunfels returned to his teaching post at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne, but the moment for his largely tonal style of music had come and gone. Since his opera “Die Vögel,” based on Aristophanes’s “The Birds,” was revived in the 1990s, his music has enjoyed a rebirth, helped by the advocacy of his grandson Stephan Braunfels, a prominent architect in Germany. Conductors James Conlon, of the Los Angeles Opera, and Manfred Honeck, of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, are among his champions.

In addition to his operas, string quartets and symphonic music, there is now a recording of some of Braunfels’s songs, all composed before he was condemned by the Nazis, released earlier this year by Capriccio. No surprise to anyone who has already discovered the music of Braunfels, this disc, recorded for Deutschlandradio in 2011, is a winner. German soprano Marlis Petersen, who recorded one of the Braunfels songs on her outstanding disc of Goethe Lieder a few years ago, sparkles with irrepressible energy in the high-flying treble songs, but she’s also calm as a pool of silvered water in the charming “Die Nachtigall.” That song is part of the “Fragmente eines Federspiels,” or “Fragments of a Feather Play,” a set of eight songs devoted to different birds. Braunfels made a set of nine further bird songs, the “Neues Federspiel,” as a companion piece, also recorded by Petersen to the same beautiful effect.

Pianist Eric Schneider, last heard in Washington accompanying the soprano Christine Schäfer’s unforgettable “Winterreise,” is a versatile, sensitive and accomplished partner. English baritone Konrad Jarnot pales by comparison in the less exciting lower-voice songs; he’s at his best in the suave, subtle songs of Braunfels’s Op. 1 set. Next to Petersen’s exquisite native pronunciation, Jarnot’s German is still fine, with a chance to recite some English lines from Shakespeare (“If music be the food of love, play on”) in the introduction to “Was ihr wollt,” the Braunfels setting of the song texts from “Twelfth Night, or What You Will.” Unfortunately, while the Shakespeare lines receive a German translation, the booklet has only the German texts of the 40 other songs, without an English translation — the only negative about this excellent disc.

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