Friday, May 17, 2013

Gratuitous Friday Special Edition – Die Ferne Geliebte is Closer Than You Think

You know how you hear a piece maybe one time—maybe it was a long time ago—and you never really think about it again? Then all of a sudden it's everywhere you look (listen). I finally downloaded Christian Gerhaher's recording of Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved) (mostly for the Berg and Schoenberg selections) and rediscovered the joys of this song cycle.

Beethoven's little work allegedly started the whole German song cycle craze. Most song cycles we know comprise many individual songs, and this one does, too, but Beethoven's prototype is a continuous stetting. Many recitalists will program just a few songs from a Schubert or Schumann or Wolf cycle, but I can't imagine anyone excerpting one song from this set. The final stanza of the opening song even comes back at the end—very cyclical.

Mark Padmore
So, after I listened to Herr Gerhaher's album, I "discovered" Daniel Behle, and right after that, I noticed that Mark Padmore performed the cycle recently in England. Then I realized I had Matthias Goerne's recording of the cycle.  I thought it would be interesting to compare them, and, being the obsessive I am, I tracked down performances of the cycle by Thomas Hampson and Fritz Wunderlich to throw into the mix. Today I'll focus on the tenors:

I found Mark Padmore's performance mannered, tortured, and squeezed; I am sure he is bending and flattening pitches for effect, but the effect is not effective for me. He sounds really depressed, as if he is already in the asylum, psychotic; die Geliebte may exist only in his mind. I usually like Mr. Padmore's work, so I am thinking either this was an off night, or maybe it's a performance that needs visuals. The audience seemed to like it. His performance can be heard at BBC Radio 3 for a few more days. 

Daniel Behle
Daniel Behle sang this cycle at the Schwetzinger Festival last year. His performance is impetuous; excited by the thought of his beloved; and focuses on the excitement of love. He is looking forward to seeing her again, and I get the feeling he really thinks he will. Mr. Behle also has recorded this cycle commercially, but I’ve not heard it…yet.

Fritz Wunderlich is…well, Fritz Wunderlich. He captures the romanticism and pastoral, folk-like nature of the songs. He may seem slightly less involved in the text than the other performers. But in reality, he is just way more subtle. Ironically while being subtle, he also injects some Viennese Schmaltz. It’s probably a cliché to wistfully wonder what might have been if he had not died so tragically young. 

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