Beethoven: Lieder (Martyn Hill: tenor, Christopher Hogwood: fortepiano)
Let a poem simmer in a composer's mind; leave the mixture to cool until musical motifs crystallize out; then turn these into a setting for voice and keyboard. If that is the real recipe for the Lied, then Beethoven was arguably its chef d'ecole. Admittedly his song-essence is much less concentrated than that of later song-writers, because his preoccupation with poetry was far less intense and involved. But that makes his 90 Lieder all the inure readily assimilable, both for performers and listeners. This selection, which includes unfamiliar works as well as favourites, is sung by Martyn Hill with unfailingly good taste and torte, together with an occasional touch of real technical distinction; thus his transition to the reprise of An die ferne Geliebte has a Souzay-like suavity. In diction and interpretation, however, he is less impressive. Wonne der Wehmut, for example, sounds rather dry; it should surely overflow with emotion. Conversely Marmotte strikes me as too lugubrious; isn't its minor mood (like the Miller of the Dee) more expressive of sturdy independence than of melancholy?
The Stein fortepiano accompaniment, admirably played by Christopher Hogwood, also has its limitations, e.g. of sustained legato line at the beginning of Adelaide. But its special tone-colour restores some unfamiliar but authentic shades of feeling and significance, notably in An dieferne Geliebte. Thus the twang of its upper register is perfect for the Disneyesque high spirits of the homing birds in No. 4, while in No. 6 the veiled timbre of bass chords and octaves vividly evokes the darkling lake and the sombre sky. The recorded quality in general is good, and the background notes are agreeably scholarly in approach (though Der Kuss must surely be earlier than 1825); the translations are adequate, and the cover picture by Caspar David Friedrich is aptly chosen and well reproduced.
© Gramophone, 1978