Barbara Sukowa

Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai

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The listener's enjoyment of this album is probably largely contingent on his or her position along the spectrum of tolerance for latitude in performance practice, which has absolute fidelity to a score at one end and free improvisation at the other end. It is most likely to appeal to those with an openness to performances that fall around the middle of the spectrum, someone with both an appreciation of tradition and adventurous ears; listeners dedicated either to purity of performance or to purely free improvisation are unlikely to find much to please them here. Reinbert de Leeuw, the exemplary Dutch conductor, pianist, and composer, is credited with having "adapted and re-composed," 21 songs by Schubert and Schumann. This re-imagining of classic lieder seems to be part of a larger trend; composer and pianist Aribert Reimann has performed similar transformations on songs by Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Brahms. De Leeuw's adaptations are for voice and chamber ensemble, and sound less like songs than chamber music that includes a vocal soloist. Barbara Sukowa, with whom de Leeuw envisioned the project, variously sings, speaks, whispers, intones, shrieks, and howls the texts. In some songs, she sings the vocal line more or less conventionally; in others, she delivers only a few lines of text, leaving the melody to the instruments. De Leeuw's settings are undeniably successful in bringing a fresh perspective to the music and the texts. His strategy is often to exaggerate a song's affect; the love songs, like "Ständchen," are made even more lushly romantic, and the scary songs, like "Erlkönig," are more grotesque. If one is able to surrender to his woozy elaborations on the familiar songs, they come alive with a startling freshness. Sukowa isn't classically trained; in fact, she sounds most like a cabaret singer, giving some of the songs, surprisingly, the flavor of Kurt Weill. She delivers the songs with powerful conviction, making a compelling case for de Leeuw's imaginative adaptations, and she is matched by the gripping playing of the Schönberg Ensemble. The sound is crisp and well balanced.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Im wunderschönen Monat Mai, lieder after Schumann & Schubert
1 1:41
2 3:52
3 1:01
4 3:11
5 4:26
6 2:17
7 2:33
8 2:51
9 1:20
10 1:59
11 1:45
12 3:22
13 2:55
14 4:24
15 4:56
16 3:21
17 1:21
18 3:04
19 1:33
20 2:23
21 3:56
blue highlight denotes track pick