Recordings of Brahms' Die schöne Magelone, Op. 33 by non-German singers are rare. This is because the work rests on a medieval German legend, brought to life and adorned with the poems set here by the German novelist Ludwig Tieck; Germans, at least theoretically, are familiar with the tale, but the songs do not tell a story by themselves in the manner of a true song cycle. Marketers since Brahms' own time have tried to fill in the gaps with narration, sometimes translated into English and read by the likes of Vanessa Redgrave. But it's important to note that Brahms himself never agreed to this, and American baritone John Chest wisely omits it. The songs stand on their own, and it's not as though every other song cycle is dramatically coherent. Chest is a rising star who has trained in the U.S. (his CV includes the Moody Bible Institute), Germany, and France; he seems set to deliver strong performances in a variety of operatic and song repertories. Here he is all youthful romanticism and catches the slightly medieval (or madrigalist) details embedded in the songs by both Tieck and Brahms. He's aided by sensitive accompaniment from Brazilian pianist Marcelo Amaral, and by Alpha's engineering work in the Temple Saint Marcel, a brick Lutheran church often used for vocal recitals. The slightly remote sound fits the nature of the work. Chest has plenty of power, and in a song like Verzweiflung (Despair), he makes you wish that Brahms had finally written that opera. This is a recommended work by a young singer to watch.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Die Schöne Magelone, Op. 33|