The Hyperion label has done well to organize its complete Liszt song cycle from the piano, with Julius Drake at the keyboard, rather than from the perspective of a single vocalist. This allows various vocal approaches and often works well, as here with tenor Allan Clayton in a group of songs mostly from the middle of Liszt's voluminous song production, and from the middle of the road in his selection of texts. A few songs are from his own circle, but the rest are by big names in German poetry -- Heine, Goethe, Uhland -- and by Victor Hugo, represented by a set of French poems. The predominant mood is discursive and dissective, as if Liszt was trying to get beyond the simple surfaces of Heine's poems to get at the deep ambiguities underneath. There isn't great variety in the group of songs here, but Clayton has the chops to pull this off: he can hang out at the top of his range in difficult songs without breaking the meditative spell. The set announces its intentions at the beginning with two completely different settings of Goethe's Freudvoll und Leidvoll, and it continues with what one might call musical close readings of the text. Sample the lengthy setting of Georg Herwegh's Ich möchte hingehn, especially at the end, where Liszt matches the poet's evocation of death with an extraordinarily subtle manipulation of the relationship between voice and piano, and Clayton and Drake catch every detail. Liszt's songs are not big, public works, and they aren't for everyone. But this collection, nicely recorded by Hyperion, makes a fine place to start with them.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim