Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My CD of the year! or, Löwe hits the high spots

I don’t write about recordings. Well, not since the days when I penned my book Musical Theatre on Record, when listening to end-to-end LPs for nine months, and My Fair Lady discs, one after the other, for ten days, put me off records for so long, that even now – 15 years later -- I haven’t recovered.

And then, well, with one thing and another, music went out of my life.

Live music has now come cavalcading thoroughly back, but recordings? Paul has done his best. Tempted me with discs of Mendelssohn duets and viola music ... all my favourites … but it’s still a struggle. Maybe because my dear departed Ian (died 2006) was a famous record collector.

Fast forward to 2014. I still don’t really buy recordings. Except when Paul takes me to Dussmann, post-concert and a few beers, and then I often make the awful mistakes (eg the complete Handel oratorios). As always, most of my CD intake is in the way of gifts, usually from friends or young artists … I’m an honest man, and those ‘reviews’ are private.

Well, this year I’ve hit gold! First, I had the promising demo record of New Zealand singer Shaan Antunovic, and then….

Beginning of article proper.

In my very young days, there were three volumes of music, on the brought-from-Vienna piano, in our New-Zealandish house. Underneath the Austrian ceramic ‘death mask’ my mother always hated. Two of them were volumes of Schubert songs (which I gave away to a young singer, and have regretted it ever since, because he’ll never sing them), the third was Löwe. I tried. He was the more difficult to play and sing … ‘Prinz Eugen’ was good … but I hadn’t heard of him …

Dammit. Dad, why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t I persist. Why did I only play Schubert’s ‘Erlkönig’ and not Löwe’s as well?

So, half a century on Löwe has come back into my life. On a friendly, gifted CD, modestly entitled ‘Carl Loewe Lieder & Balladen’.

I didn’t know the singer (I don't know any singers!), but I’d just heard the pianist. Five stars. So I actually played it. After a few beers. And then I had to play it again, next morning, to be sure that it wasn’t just the beers … and I was right, this CD is outstanding.

It’s not my business to extol Löwe. He is one of the greatest of all Lieder composers. In my opinion, just about the greatest. What power, what drama, what melody … He set those same well-known words that so many C19th songwriters set, and oh! what he made of them! Well, comparisons are invidious, I guess … but just listen to what he did with the Erl King!

Actually, listen to it on this recording. There can’t be a better one. I don’t know the work of Roman Trekel, although I realise he is a well-known Kammersänger, but all I can say is, I think that he is the most stunning Lieder singer – especially for this type of song -- that I’ve ever heard. A mature, wide-ranging Verdi baritone crossed with the talents of a chansonnier. No! I’m not exaggerating. I’ve just listened to the whole disc yet again, to make sure I wasn’t deceiving myself. It’s a doozie! A triumph.

I’m not going to enumerate, track by track. It would sound like a great gush. Every single number is a joy (OK, Erlkönig is, of course, my favourite); and vocalist, pianist (Daniel Heide) and composer – with a little help from Goethe et al – have here made a recording which is my most liked of this year.

Maybe I have really do have to go back to listening to recorded music again.

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