Hyperion's cycle of Brahms' complete songs have had a unique structure: Each album features an early-to-late selection of songs, and each one has a different singer. This can be done because the cycle really belongs to pianist Graham Johnson, the accompanist throughout, who takes a deep dive into the songs and sets the appropriate tone for each one. His notes (available in full on Hyperion's website if you're downloading) are worth your time in themselves; they are invaluable documents exploring how Brahms' audiences would have heard the styles and contexts of each song. The music alludes to German and foreign folk styles, to Italian music, to old balladry, and more. But of course without a singer to realize Johnson's ideas they are nothing, and he may have his strongest collaborator of the cycle thus far: baritone Benjamin Appl, the last student of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, emulates the transparent manner of his teacher and allows the detailed shadings Johnson brings to show through. This works especially well because Johnson places a lot of emphasis on the poetry and its own background; Appl's readings have the effortlessly limpid quality of Fischer-Dieskau's in an emotionally complex song like Eine gute, gute Nacht, Op. 59, No. 6 (which you might sample). Other attractions are some rarely heard material like the selections from the 49 Deutsche Volkslieder that conclude the album; in this kind of reading, these pieces almost reach the status of full-fledged Brahms songs. An unusually satisfying Brahms lied album, and a strong candidate if you're going to sample Hyperion's series even though other singers are better known than Appl.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|49 Deutsche Volkslieder WoO33|