Brahms: Die schöne Magelone, Op 33

Reviewed on Wed 14 Jun, 2017

Brahms’s songs have the potential to awaken the child in us, their chivalric spirit so unlike the frequently sophisticated tenor of today’s song texts.

Brahms’s 15 Romances from Ludwig Tieck’s ‘The Wondrous Love Story of the Beautiful Magelone and Count Peter of Provence’ make up a romantic narrative based on a medieval fictional subtext, and filled with the most arresting music. Lovers of the classic Fischer-Dieskau/Richter recordings will likely be unable to forget that duo in, say, the sixth song 'Wie soll ich die Freude', especially the central section, ‘Schlage, sehnsüchtige Gewalt’ (‘Beat, O powerful longing’), one of the most haunting passages in the whole of Brahms’s Lieder output, beautifully performed here by Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber, as is the cycle’s most famous Lied 'Ruhe, Süssliebchen' (‘Rest, my sweetheart …’). These and the other 13 songs have the potential to awaken the child in us, their chivalric spirit so unlike the frequently sophisticated tenor of today’s song texts. However, I should also draw your attention to the excellent Roderick Williams version on Champs Hill (CHRCD 108, 2 CDs), his accompanist Roger Vignoles, author of a highly credible English translation of Tieck’s tale, so you have the option of listening either to the German-language song-cycle on its own or as spread out within the original narrative context. Both options work well, and Williams’s heroic, fresh-voiced performances suit the tone of Tieck’s naïve but warming fairy tale. Gerhaher, like Fischer-Dieskau, is the better choice for those who prefer to attend to the beauty of the music rather than follow the cycle’s narrative drift.
–Rob Cowan