Rebecca Broberg / Frank Strobel

Ludwig Thuille: Ausgewählte Lieder

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Munich-based composer Ludwig Thuille was a friend and contemporary of Richard Strauss, and like Strauss he was a prolific song composer. There, however, the similarity ends -- Thuille was largely untouched by Wagner's example, and his compact songs, with their clear structures, sound very little like those of Strauss. They don't sound much like those of anyone else, either, and that's what makes them interesting -- although they have conventional beginnings that woudn't be out of place in Beethoven or Mendelssohn, they diverge into freer spaces determined by the qualities of the text. This disc doesn't seem to promise much on the outside: between the well-worn German poetry, full of linden trees and disappointed lovers in May, and Thuille's status as a pedagogue and the listing of his virtually unknown students, the listener is led to expect music that's heavy and conventional. In the event, it is neither. Thuille may be classified as a conservative, but the notes by American soprano Rebecca Broberg suggest a better overall framework: Thuille, she writes somewhat awkwardly, "is considered to be a quintessentially Jugendstil composer." Like the artists and architects of the Jugendstil and its close relative, art nouveau, Thuille uses conventional elements in a modern way. Choosing texts with a female perspective, he often begins his songs with singsong melodies and simple arpeggiated accompaniments, but then draws back the curtain to reveal a deeper psychological interior. The pattern of unexpected development over the course of a song holds even in lighter pieces like Sommertag (Summer's Day, track 7), to a silly Theodor Storm text about the prelude to a kiss between two young people at a mill on a summer's day: Thuille's approach to the text, sketching the sleepy atmosphere and then introducing the lively and seductive miller's daughter, is so subtle that he seems to turn the poem into a sort of Dionysian pastoral. Soprano Broberg approaches the music with flat-out passion, which is exactly what it needs. She offers five complete opus-number sets of Thuille's songs, a smart choice in that each set is carefully unified. The Drei Lieder für drei Frauenstimmen solo nach Gedichten von Joseph von Eichendorff (Three Songs for Three Solo Female Voices to Poems by Joseph von Eichendorff), which despite their name are accompanied by piano, are less interior in nature and a good deal less interesting, but Broberg effectively shifts gears for the gloomy and a good deal more tonally experimental set of Drei Mädchenlieder nach Gedichten von Wilhelm Hertz, Op. 36 (Three Songs of Young Women to Poems of Wilhelm Hertz). Nearly all these songs were once very popular, and Broberg makes a strong case for their rediscovery in a performance that reflects many of the strong personal perspectives she outlines in her notes. Highly recommended to anyone who likes German art songs or the culture of the last turn of the century but one. Texts are given in German and in Broberg's own English translations, and the Oehms-label engineering is up to its usual lofty standard.

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