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Recordings

Brigitte Fassbaender: Lieder — Mahler, Berg, Ogermann
29 Sep 2005

Brigitte Fassbaender: Lieder — Mahler, Berg, Ogermann

Since 1995 the mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbaender no longer performs as a singer, but has devoted her recent career to directing.

Brigitte Fassbaender: Lieder — Mahler, Berg, Ogermann

Brigitte Fassbaender, mezzo-soprano; John Wustmann, piano.

Arts Archives 43028-2 [CD]

 

Yet it is difficult to imagine Fassbaender as anything but a consummate performer through her work in opera and her Lieder recitals. Those who know her voice from live performances are aware of the rich timbre, nuanced expression, and sensitivity to texts in a variety of repertoire.

This release of Lieder: Mahler, Berg, Ogermann makes available music recorded between September and November, 1986 in New York, and includes works by three composers of Lieder. In terms of order, the program moves from the Vier Lieder, op. 2, of Alban Berg (1885-1935) which date from 1910 to Claus Ogermann’s Tagore-Lieder (1975). The final portion of the recording is devoted a selection from Mahler’s settings from Des Knaben Wunderhorn and, specifically, several composed between 1892-96, not around 1883, as indicated in the liner notes.

In fact, the selections by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) are noteworthy because Fassbaender sings the versions for voice and piano in lieu of the arrangements with orchestral accompaniment. While the piano arrangements are not unknown, singers sometimes choose to record the versions with orchestra, which are overtly more colorful. In these songs, Fassbaender’s facile voice is never obscured. If anything, the choice of piano is all the more impressive in the colorings that she gives each song.

One of the earliest settings is “Rheinlegendchen,” and the folk-like melody Mahler used for it adds to the charm of this ironic piece. The text concerns the enduring love that is embodied in a ring, which seems to be difficult for the protagonist to hold. This is, after all, set by the Rhine river, and Mahler was hardly unaware of the implications for the famous golden ring associated with Wagner’s cycle. Yet this music ventures nowhere near Wagner’s, and Mahler avoided even passing reference to the music of the Rhine-maidens in his setting. In interpreting this song, Fassbaender treats the line with masterful fluidity, such that the rubato she uses colors the phrases musically and textually. With another song, like “Lob des hohen Verstands,” irony is still important, and the earnest tone Fassbaender contributes is critical for this successful performance, which rings true, even in the vocal sound effects of trills and braying “ija.” The final note sits squarely in Fassbaender’s exciting low register.

Yet the recording of “Des Antonius Fischpredigt” is the high point of the CD, and credit must be given to the pianist John Wustmann for giving the accompaniment shadings that suggest the orchestra in varying the textures and touch of the instrument. Here the singer and pianist are a single force, presenting the Lied as though it were chamber music. There is a delicacy here that the performers bring to “Verlorene Muh’” – a delightful dialogue-song that depicts the interchange between a couple as they toy with each other from attraction to distraction. The latter is one of Mahler’s more compressed songs, and shows his subtlety as a composer of Lieder.

Likewise, both “Das irdische Leben” and “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen” are fine performances that demonstrate Fassbaender’s facility in performing Mahler’s music. For those who wish to hear how she handles the orchestral version, a selection of those settings sung with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and conducted by Hans Zender, has been released by CPO. Another selection, conducted by Riccardo Chailly, is worth seeking out for the fine performances it preserves.

As with her performances of Mahler’s music Fassbaender’s sense of text makes the Tagore-Lieder a memorable part of this recording. Claus Ogermann (b. 1930) is a contemporary figure, and he composed the set of Lieder to Tagore’s texts in 1975. In the subsequent decades, those Lieder have attracted a following in Germany. Ogermann is associated with popular music, but in these pieces uses a more classically oriented style and pays respect to the tradition associated with Lieder, in lieu of pursuing an overtly popular idiom. These modern explorations of German orientalism result in some very effective songs. “Zeit ist endlos, Herr” is a good example of Ogermann’s sense of style. Likewise, “Er kommt” is highly effective at conveying Tagore’s text, with its well-crafted accompaniment that intersects the vocal line. Fassbaender is quite expressive in these pieces, and gives them the same kind of intensity she uses for singing Berg’s seminal set of Vier Lieder.

For those unfamiliar with Fassbaender’s voice, this CD gives an opportunity to hear her performing literature that she made her specialty. Fassbaender’s legacy includes recordings like these, which stand as tribute to her fine voice, and the music she wisely chose. This is a recording that anyone interested in Fassbaender should have, and those who know Mahler’s music will find her interpretations of his Lieder engaging. One can hope that Arts Archives will produce more such recordings.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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