Brahms Lieder, Live from Verbier - Featuring four star singers and two star pianists
This album is the first release of the live concert from the 2003 Verbier Festival. The full evening of Brahms lieder features star singers Andrea Rost, Magdalena Ko?ená, Matthew Polenzani and Thomas Quasthoff who are joined by two great pianists: Yefim Bronfman and James Levine. The evening ranges from solo lieder to the Liebeslieder Waltzes opp. 52 and 65. The album is released on June 10, 2016.
Fresh from his exertions with his Requiem, Brahms nonchalantly dismissed his first set of LiebesliederWalzer in a letter to his publisher as "trifles", though he was also confident of their appeal. "I will gladly risk being called an ass if [they] don't give a few people pleasure", he added. Together with their sequel collection, Neue Liebeslieder-Walzer, they have indeed done that, and did so from the start: in response to popular demand, Brahms also composed a four-hand piano arrangement and later an orchestral suite. His labelling of the original score as for "piano and voices ad libitum" seemed like an invitation – particularly to amateurs – to present these convivial waltz-songs in whatever form people chose.
Paired with the larger chamber songs on this program are solo sets for each singer. The accompanied solo song is essentially about intimacy, not solitude, and Brahms's mastery of this art-form allowed him to create a unique amalgam of profundity and pathos, with the music magically mirroring the words. The source of the words in the first two solo songs delivered here by Matthew Polenzani was a favorite one for many composers of the German-speaking world: German translations of the poems of the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz inspired composers including Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Wolf, Strauss and Schoenberg to try their hand. The first sung here addresses the breeze playing round the beloved's head, while the Liebestod celebrated in the second turns on that quintessentially Persian opposition between fresh flowering roses and a parched desert. The third is the setting of a poem by Felix Schumann, the youngest of Clara's children, who was already suffering from the tuberculosis which was to kill him: this song was a loving gesture by Brahms for which Clara was touchingly grateful.
Performed in the spirit of true chamber music, with characterful voices and a feeling of mutual sympathy, the singers and their accompanists display a wide range of mood, color, accentuation, blend and individuality. High in the francophone Swiss Alps, the Verbier Festival has long functioned as a musical laboratory in which hitherto untried combinations of singers and instrumentalists are put together, and this live recording reflects that tradition at its most successful.