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Recordings

Verboten und verbannt
30 May 2007

Verboten und verbannt: Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Zemlinsky, Zeisl, Schönberg, Berg, Mahler.

Verboten und verbannt — forbidden and banned — a phrase used with Jewish composers whose music was proscribed by the Nazis brings to mind more than musical censorship, but also the atrocities that culminated in the Holocaust.

Verboten und verbannt: Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Zemlinsky, Zeisl, Schönberg, Berg, Mahler.

Thomas Hampson, bariton, Wolfram Rieger, piano.

Orfeo CD 708ő 061 [CD]

$15.99  Click to buy

While some of the composers represented by this phrase died before the Third Reich, others lived through it, and like the works of their predecessors preserved on this recording, they endured the horrors of this dark period of the twentieth century. This recital is an attempt to use music of composers so wrongly branded and proscribed to reverse the situation and make the label “Verboten und verbrannt” into an emblem of their merit. The best explanation of the purpose of this recital from the 2005 Salzburg Festival is included in the liner notes Gottfried Kraus:

As in previous years, the programme extended over two evenings, the first of which featured Hampson alone, whereas for the second he was joined by femail colleagues who shared his commitment to the subject. In both he confronted his festival audience with the works of composers whom the National Socialists had banned, outlawed, driven into exile and in some cases even murdered. Both programmes were titled Verboten und verbannt (Forbidden and Banned). Hampson’s aim was not so much to engage on a political level with one of the darkest chapters in human history. Instead, he wanted to show that art is ultimately more powerful than evil and brute force. Many of the songs and composers’ names, especially in the second programme, may well have been unfamiliar to his Mozarteum audience, while even familiar works such as Mendelssohn’s Auf Flügeln des Gesanges, which opened both programmes, functioning as a kind of motto, and Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, which brought the first evening to a close, appeared in a new and different light when heard in their present context.

The result was certainly not a lieder recital in the customary sense of the term, but a festival concert as it ought to be be, a distinction that it owed not only to the choice of programme and its intelligent structure but also to the way in which the audience was prepared. . . .

The women to whom Kraus refers (as translated in the accompanying booklet by Stewart Spencer) are Melanie Diener and Michelle Breedt, who participated in other such recitals with Hampson at Salzburg. The other composers included in the program are Hans Krása and Viktor Ullmann, two victims of the Holocaust who were also verboten und verbrannt. As much a social event as an artistic one, this recital program functioned at various levels, and its potentially controversial nature at the annual Salzburg Festival was a factor that helped it to succeed.

This recording preserves the recital from 18 August 2005 and provides an excellent overview of the Lieder by a body of proscribed composers. With Mendelssohn’s Auf Flügeln des Gesanges (“On the wings of song”) opening the program, the connotes a conventional Lieder recital through the use of this familiar song that has been part of many such performances since its composition. Just the same Mendelssohn’s Altdeutsches Frühlingslied is another song that transcends the artificial boundaries connected to nationality and politics, but rather communicates the poet— and the composer’s— experience of rebirth. These and other selections of Mendelssohn’s songs evoke the nineteenth century, a time when Mendelssohn would have been known and admired, but hardly forbidden and banned. These songs anchor the recital in the tradition of the German Lied, an element that is wholly part of the culture in which the other composers worked. It was not an idiom for social, religious, or political activity, but rather an artistic milieu that crossed any of those artificial boundaries. This hardly means that prejudice or labeling were unknown. While it may have been less so for Mendelssohn, Mahler faced the anti-Semitic press, and the bias against his Jewish nationality certainly influenced the reception of his music in lifetime and afterward.

With Meyerbeer, the songs represent an unfamiliar side of the composer, who is known best for grand opera. The three selections chosen for this recital show Meyerbeer’s facility with the Lied in two settings of Heine and one of Michael Beer. The first two are somewhat conventional Lieder, but the third, Menschenfeindlich shows a more dramatic and, to a degree ironic, side of Meyerbeer. This song calls for a tight ensemble between the singer and the pianist, and the applause included in the recording demonstrates the audience’s appreciate for this bravura piece. Wit the songs of Zemlinsky that follow, the harmonic idiom is more complicated. Mit Trommeln und Pfeifen, for example, Zemlinsky is a wonderfully colorful setting of Liliencron’s Wundhorn-like text, with modal inflections in the vocal line that underscore the sung text. Of Schoenberg’s Lieder, the setting of Viktor Klemperer’s verse in Der verlorene Haufen is highly evocative, and its proximity to Pierrot lunaire emerges in the passages of Sprechstimme and the pointillistic writing in the piano that underscores the vocal line in other places. Schoenberg’s proximity to Mahler and, by extension, the nineteenth-century Lied tradition may be found in his more conventional setting Wie Georg von Frundsberg von sich selber sang (“Mein Fleiß und Müh ich nie hab’ gespart”), with its text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

The modernism that Schoenberg expressed in his songs is part of the idiom that Alban Berg adopted for his own style, and in so doing both created music that eventually became associated with artistic decadence. It is possible to hear Berg’s challenges to convention in even the early songs included in this recital, with a piece like Schlummerlose Nächte poised keenly between traditional structure and turn-of-the-century innovation. Other Lieder are, perhaps, less experimental, with the fine examples from the young composer Erich Zeisl being a bit anachronistic. Mahler has the final word with this set of five Rückert-Lieder found at the close. Four of the songs were on the program, with the last, Liebst du um Schönheit offered as a Zugabe, an encore.

This recording preserves essentially all of Hampson’s performances of this important part of the 2005 Salzburg Festival. It is no surprise to find Hampson balancing the attention to the lines of text with the execution of the musical line and never at the expense of one over the other. His phrasing of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder is exemplary, with the comfortable ensemble with Rieger apparent on those pieces and throughout the recording. It is a fine contrbituion on various counts, with the sometimes infrequently performed literature here executed masterfully. The focus of the recital itself merits attention for its supra-musical motivation whcih, in this live recording were hardly lost on the audience. The overall quality of the reproduction is fine, and while some of the audience and stage sounds sometimes intrude on several selections, such details contribute the sense of immediacy that the audience itself experienced. While music that was forbidden and banned by the Third Reich has been the subject of various books and articles, as well as London’s series of recordings labeled “Entartete Musik”— proscribed music— this concise exploration of the subject speaks volumes.

James Zychowicz

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