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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brahms' Complete Songs and Duets on Brilliant, June 18, 2010
This review is from: Brahms: Complete Songs (Audio CD)
I usually avoid large box sets because they make it difficult to give the individual works the attention they deserve. I couldn't resist this large CD compilation of the complete songs and duets of Brahms. In contrast to Schubert's songs, for example, I haven't known Brahms' songs for long. I have listened to Fischer-Dieskau's six CD recording of many of the Brahms songs Lieder together with several other recordings. I wanted to hear more of them. The low price of this set, which consists of 13 CDs in addition to a CD-ROM of texts and liner notes, sealed the deal. In the loveliness of the music, the variety and high quality of the singers and pianists, the sound, and the price, this set offers an excellent survey of Brahms' songs. On the downside, the set lacks English translations of the songs, the liner notes are not overly helpful in approaching the music, and no information is provided about the performers. I had some questions as well about the manner in which the songs are organized. But this is a lovely set simply for hearing Brahms's art songs. For purposes of this review, I spent about a week hearing the entire set and becoming absorbed in the music. The better approach may be to hear these songs a little at a time.

These are original CDs rather than reissues. The recordings are from Germany and Austria and date from 2007. They include a group of excellent young singers and pianists, some of whom are familiar to me from other recordings. The performers are not indicated on this site, and I will list them.

Christian Elsner - Tenor
Simone Wold - Soprano
Ingeborg Danz - Alto
Michael Volle - Baritone
Stephanie Iranyi - Mezzo-soprano
Letzia Scherrer - Soprano
Franziska Gottwald - Alto
Robert Morvai- Tenor
Lenneke Rutten - Mezzo-soprano
Antonia Bourve - Soprano
Rebekka Stohr - Mezzo soprano
Daniel Sans - Tenor
Michael Nagy - Baritone

Burkhard Kehring
Gerold Huber
Helmut Deutsch
Karl-Peter Kammerlander
Ferenc Bognar
Adrian Baianu
Andreas Lucewicz
Hans Adolfsen
Tobias Hartlieb
Ronald Glassl -viola on two songs
Hartmut Volle - narrator in Die Schoene Magelone

Here are some brief comments on the content of the set.

Brahms composed songs throughout his life and they have an intimate, lyrical character not found in his larger compositions. He composed about 200 art songs for solo voice on themes of love, loss, nature, and nostalgia for place. Most of his songs are set to poets little known today, and Brahms' music attempts to capture a single mood rather than to give a musical painting of each word or phrase in the text. Under the circumstances, I did not find the lack of an English translation a major loss. The piano part is integral to Brahms' songs. It is generally simple in character, but rather more intense than in the songs of Schubert. Brahms songs begin with opus 3 no. 1, a work called "Liebestru" and end with the "Four Serious Songs", opus 121. In addition to sets of songs with opus numbers, a substantial number of songs without opus numbers are included in this set.

Brahms wrote only one song-cycle, the infrequently performed "Die Schone Magelone" opus 33 setting 15 poems by Ludwick Tieck on a medieval romance. These songs are lengthy and romantic with a virtuoso piano part. The cycle is usually performed straight through but it is also sometimes done with a spoken narration between each song. The songs themselves do not tell the entire story. The cycle is well done here by Michael Volle and pianist Adrian Baianu. The version with the narration is used, which, for me did not add a great deal to the cycle.

Many of Brahms art songs rely heavily on German folk songs. Brahms also set a substantial quantity of works he denominated as folksongs, and they are included in this set. The best-known of these works is the late collection of Deutsche Volkslieder, WOO 32, performed here by Robert Morvai and Andreas Lucewicz.

Approximately 3 CDs in this collection consist of duets. I had no earlier familiarity with these works, and they tend to be lighter in character than the songs. The CD consisting of soprano and alto duets by Letizia Scherrer and Franziska Gottwald is particularly lovely.

There is a complete set of Brahms' songs available on the CFO label on individual CDs which are substantially more expensive than this set. (The CFO set features pianist Helmut Deutsch who also performs on this Brilliant compilation.) In addition, I learned while writing this review that pianist Graham Johnson is in the process of issuing a complete series of songs on Hyperion similar to his acclaimed Schubert cycle. The first volume features Angelika Kirschlager.BRAHMS: The Complete Songs, vol. 1

This Brilliant Classics set is a lovely budget-priced version of the Brahms art songs. It will be of most interest to listeners with a passion for art song with its intimately romantic combination of poetry, voice and piano.

Robin Friedman
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Brahms: Complete Songs
Brahms: Complete Songs by Various Artists (Audio CD - 2010)
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