Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

What I'm Listening To

March 22, 2012


There are a couple of notable recital recordings I've been listening to lately. Both include unusual juxtapositions of off the beaten path fare that make them worth a listen. Soprano Marlis Petersen and her pianist Jendrik Springer have compiled a song cycle entitled Goethe-lieder: Das Ewig-Weibliche for Harmonia Mundi. Goethe's poetry, and especially these texts from the mouths of his heroines, have inspired some of the most beautiful and best known lieder from the likes of Beethoven and Schubert. Petersen is mining other veins here, exploring Goethe's "eternal feminine" with unexpected settings of the same texts from other composers such as Wagner and Liszt. But the music goes even farther afield with the completely unexpected Charles Ives ("Ilmenau"), Tchaikovsky ("Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt"), and Manfred Trojahn ("Bewundert viel und viel gescholten") to name only a few. Petersen sounds confident and solid throughout with excellent phrasing. Like any program with so many different composers in the offing, there are significant shifts in style and approach that Petersen and Springer organize in an effort to minimize any jarring contrasts. And while not all of these songs are going to stay with you forever, its a smart and fascinating program with a lot to think about.

Meanwhile soprano Christine Schäfer recently made her switch to Sony and her first recording for them, Arias, may not carry an attention grabbing name. But no matter; her voice more than takes care of that job. Schäfer has managed a rather diverse set of roles already in her career leaving her mark in Mozart roles as well as Strauss, bel canto, and 20th century music. Arias captures that diversity with unexpected choices from Verdi's Otello ("Canzone del Salice"), as well as Handel, Bellini, Thomas and Strauss all performed with the support of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Julien Salemkour. Her tone is lovely throughout all of these numbers, but perhaps she is most impressive in the lone 20th century work on the program, Messiaen's "Ah! Dieu nous éblouit par excès de vérité" from Saint François d'Assise. Schäfer is well known for the role of the angel in Messiaen's sole opera and the performance recaptures some of the shine from this glorious high-water mark in her career.


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