Soprano Barbara Hannigan has become something of a cult favorite with her deep dives into specific and unusual repertories. Her self-presentation in concert is unorthodox and marked by full-scale efforts to communicate the essence of the music at hand, in works ranging from Berio to Gershwin. So it is with this set of songs from the decade and a half on either side of 1900 in Vienna. The enjoyment begins with the physically passionate cover, an example of her way of personifying the music's spirit. Hannigan's is an utterly distinctive voice, edgy and coruscating, and she knows how to tone down her considerable virtuosic powers to the dimensions of the music, such as that here, intended for small rooms. She explores the early, tonal (although sometimes barely so) songs of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg, delivering insight into the controversial Richard Dehmel (attacked by the proto-fascist, German right wing) and other poets, with expertly sensitive accompaniment from her collaborator Reinbert de Leeuw. The program concludes with some familiar songs by Hugo Wolf, which in this context take on a somewhat mysterious cast. The greatest interest resides in the lesser-known material by Zemlinsky and especially by Alma Mahler, whose music is rarely recorded even in an age of rediscovery of female composers. She lost prime years to discouragement of her creativity by Gustav Mahler (who later changed his mind), and her output amounts to 14 songs from her lifetime plus two posthumously published. Nevertheless, the songs here are clearly cut from the same cloth as the others on the album, and they have a dramatic quality that seems to be characteristic to Mahler herself. Maybe they're more in line harmonically with the more conservative Zemlinsky (whom Mahler also dated), but sample Mahler's positively spooky setting of Dehmel's Die stille Stadt, which may be worth the price of admission by itself. Alpha's Netherlands Radio Muziekcentrum sound is nonpareil, and the whole project is deeply committed and highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Vier Lieder, Op. 2|
|Fünf Lieder Nach Gedichten von Richard Dehmel für Stimme und Klavier|
|Sieben Frühe Lieder|
|Aus Lieder Op. 2|
|Aus Lieder Op. 7|