A Puzzle

So, I had a conversation with my mother the other day. She likes the same kind of music as I do, but mainly chamber and orchestral material  – vocal music less so. She was a competent pianist before she and dad sold the piano when they sold their house, and she played the flute for about 40 years in various chamber ensembles and community orchestras, so she’s heard and played a pretty wide variety of stuff. We’ve watched some operas together – she particularly liked the Claus Guth Don Giovanni.

She has issued me a challenge. She’ll make an effort to get into art songs (solo voice and piano). My job is to come up with about 20 minutes of such songs which I will then dropbox to her. I have developed the following rules:

1. No more than one song per composer.

2. Avoid too much sentimentality either in the material or the interpretation – acerbic wit or or direct emotion, but no treacle.

3. Balance of sopranos, mezzos, tenors and maybe even a baritone or two.

4. The more distinctive and different the voices the better.

5. Has to contain a song by Shostakovich.

6. At least one song in Spanish.

So far, I know that there will be something from Kasarova’s Schumann/Schubert/Brahms CD; the Shostakovich song might be performed by Magdalena Kožená; Schumann’s “Frauenliebe und -Leben” is off the table; Dorothea Röschmann is inevitable; Werner Güra will sing the Beethoven song; and I have a terrifying dearth of baritones in my music collection. But other than that it’s up in the air.

24 thoughts on “A Puzzle

  1. Purcell, Britten, Warlock and Vaughan Williams would feature on any list of art songs for me. Tom Allen does a wonderful version of Vaughan William’s “Linden Lea” which can be found all over Youtube or I could easily supply. Warlock’s “The Curlew” is brilliant though maybe a bit long. Too many good choices for Britten and Purcell.


    1. My baritone candidate is Christian Gerhaher – one of the Mahler Songs of a Wayfarer, or Urlicht. Or if you don’t already have a Schumann song, his Icn grolle nicht.. very passive aggressive!


        1. If you go with “ich grolle nicht” I recommend the live Edinburgh performance. One reviewer said: “His Dichterliebe was not so much a psychodrama as a bitter if muted reflection on the end of an affair, through which hints of gathering agitation became more apparent as the cycle progressed.” (I read an “analysis” of “ich grolle nicht” that insisted the singer really bears no grudge and is sympathetic about his beloved regretting leaving him. Really? did you notice the bit about the serpent?)


  2. How about Gerald Finley singing Barber or Ives? And Olga Borodina singing de Falla or Granados (or even one of the Spanish-influenced songs by Shostakovich or Glinka)?


      1. Barber and Ives both excellent ideas. I don’t have the Finley/Drake album – perhaps this will serve as an excuse to get it.

        I was thinking Berganza singing Falla, but only because that’s what I’ve got; I haven’t heard Borodina – this may be something to try to find on YT.


  3. I don’t know if Schubert’s der Erlkönig would meet your criteria but I really like Bryn Terfel singing this. His German is excellent and his Erlkönig eerily creepy without being melodramatic.


  4. Oh – I’ve just thought of Magdalena Kozena’s album “Songs My Mother Taught Me”. Lots of Czech songs (Dvorak, Martinu, Janacek, Novak), beautifully sung.


        1. I’m guessing we may have been motivated to buy this album for the same reason 😉 Those duets….But of course the rest of the album is excellent anyway.


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