Recently in Recordings
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
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04 Dec 2007
KINKEL: An Imaginary Voyage through Europe. 32 Songs
Johanna Kinkel (1810-1858) was a talented contemporary of Fanny Hensel, and other fine musicians of the first half of the nineteenth century. Her legacy includes some fine Lieder, which are collected as An Imaginary Voyage through Europe in an arrangement that represents the various themes she explored in her music.
While the idea of a trip through the Continent is not explicitly part of Kinkel’s work, it offers some useful points of reference for listening to works that are essentially unknown, yet deserving attention. Moreover, the extensive notes by the soprano Ingrid Smithüsen are a fine introduction to Kinkel’s career.
From the works presented here, the music itself is engaging, with the songs found on this CD intriguing for their natural-sounding vocalism and well crafted accompaniments. Elements redolent of the folk idiom are part of some songs, while others suggest the influence of bel canto; elsewhere, as in “Abschied von Italian” (op. 16, no 3), the music verges on a popular-sounding idiom that breaks free from some of the foursquare style of conventional Lieder. While the arrangement of the recording accentuates some of the national styles of the texts themselves, the music is not overtly nationalistic. Some formulations that connote Scottish lyricism are part of the “Auld Rob Morris,” a setting of a folk text, as indicated in the liner notes. Yet the arrangement is a convenience for presenting this large selection of Kinkel’s songs, rather than an attempt to lock her works into the sometimes artificial categories associated with musical nationalism. Instead, lyricism prevails throughout the songs, with accompaniments that support the vocal line. Her sense of rhythm and meter allows the texts to emerge clearly, with a natural declamation that stops short of the Angst that would emerge in the Lieder of the latter part of the nineteenth century.
As much as it is possible to enjoy songs associated with the Rhine, Spain, Italy, Scotland, and France, other themes are included, like “Revolution,” “Kinderland,” and “Geisterwelt.” “Auf, whole auf Ihr Condioten” (op. 18, no. 3) is a kind of march-song that Smithüsen included with “Demokratenlied (a song without an opus designation) under the label “Revolution.” These songs show Kinkel in a somewhat popular idiom that the texts certainly require. As to the texts, a number are by Kinkel herself, with some by her second husband Gottfried Kinkel. Other songs make use of texts by poets who became associated with Lieder, like Heinrich Heine and Adalbert von Chamisso. As Smithüsen mentions in her notes, Kinkel was part of Bettina von Armin’s salon, where she met such individuals as Chamisso. In fact, some details of her life reveal how closely Kinkel was associated with some of the more important figures of her day.
The performances on this recording are laudable for various reasons, not the least is the interpretations that are persuasive enough to suggest rehearing some of the selections. Smithüsen is a fine interpreter of these Lieder, with her focused and expressive voice shaping each of the songs with the individuality the music requires. Smithüsen is effective because of her ability to bring out details, without relying on histrionics or other elements that are not idiomatic. At the same time, the accompaniments by Thomas Palm support Smithüsen throughout the recording. The use of fortepiano is fitting, and while its lighter sound may be jarring upon hearing the first selections, it proves to be a fine means of allowing the vocal lines to emerge clearly. The recording captures the nuanced sounds of the fortepiano well. Palm is a sensitive accompanist, and his ability to support some of the more overtly demonstrative songs, like “Thurm und Fluth” (op. 19, no. 6) is welcome.
Those unfamiliar with Kinkel will find this recording to be an excellent introduction to her music. At the same time, this CD expands the world of Lieder in the first half of the nineteenth century. Her music is certainly appealing enough to stand alongside some of the other figures of the time. Those who want to fuller image of music-making in the first half of the nineteenth century may find some insights in exploring Kinkel’s work. More than that, the music itself is evidence of the composer’s talent and accomplishments.
James L. Zychowicz