Sunday, December 14, 2008

Marlis Petersen, Stella Doufexis, Werner Güra and Konrad Jarnot ask us: Aimez-vous Brahms?

A night of great singing at the Athens Megaron. 4 internationally renowned singers offered the (not really numerous) audience of the Athens Megaron a liederabend to remember: Brahms' Liebeslieder-Walzer with Marlis Petersen, Stella Doufexis, Werner Güra and Konrad Jarnot. An exquisitely paired quartet of voices that have also recorded the Liebeslieder-Walzer for Harmonia Mundi, a recording that was praised by the critics.

Brahms' Liebeslieder-Walzer are true singers' pieces--and as such they've proven perennially attractive both to the most ardent amateurs and polished professionals. And now we can add this new Harmonia Mundi release to the list of first-rate vocal quartet performances--and I must add, it's one of the more dynamic, exuberantly expressive versions you'll hear, with all four singers very engaged with text and filled with dramatic verve. To me, this emphatic style works perfectly most of the time, and definitely would play well to a concert audience where you could see and share in the physical excitement of the performers; but for a recording--and especially here, where the sound is fairly close and (appropriately) intimate--I found myself at times wishing for a bit more subtlety to balance the overall ebullience. Happily, the pianists also aren't afraid to exploit (tastefully) Brahms' colorful--and often underplayed--effects, whether it be the crashing torrent of "Am Gesteine rauscht die Flut", the fluttering bird of "Vögelein durchrauscht die Luft", or the gently shimmering waves in "Sieh, wie ist die Welle klar". Importantly, the four voices are very well matched, and their ensemble skills and beautiful duets and solos keep us pleasantly involved from beginning to end. This generously programmed disc also includes fine renditions of the Drei Lieder Op. 64 and the complete Neue Liebeslieder Op. 65, the less-popular and darker-themed but equally well crafted and fun-to-sing follow-up to the Op. 52 set. A pleasure!
David Vernier

There's a strong sense of emotional give-and-take between all six, and the two works are finely contrasted, with Liebeslieder-Walzer wittily observing the vagaries and rituals of desire, and Neue Liebeslieder very much about the sometimes regretful aftermaths of consummation. The two sets are separated by the reflective Drei Lieder, Op 64, exquisitely done, though their positioning fractures the mood. A classy, sophisticated disc, it works best if you reprogramme it so the Drei Lieder come at the end.
Tim Ashley

Werner Güra has received international acclaim as a lied singer and no wonder why. A wonderful lyric voice, that was even throughout all it’s tessitura, excellent articulation, perfect style.

Stella Doufexis, the german-greek mezzo displays an enormous voice and sings in a way that rivets you and leaves you speechless and stunned. I hope we have the luck of watching mrs. Doufexis in Athens again and again in the future.

Marlis Petersen is the “sweetheart” of the Greeks. After her stunning Lulu in Athens (2005), Marlis sang again in Zemlinsky’s “Die Zwerg” a year ago (you can download both performances of you follow the links) and gave a personal recital in Nafplion. In a couple of months we ‘ll have the honor to witness her debut as Thaïs, at the Athens Megaron.

Well, no need to say that Marlis amazed us once again. With her indisputable star quality, wonderful lyric voice, style and expression but also with a communication charisma that makes her irresistible.

Konrad Jarnot’s rich baritone, sounded uneven and looked un-focused at times but nevertheless his interpretation was an excellent one.

Do you find lieder boring? You should try these guys… Not a moment of boredom. Exciting singing but also this emotional give-and-take that Tim Ashley describes in his review. Not only between the 4 and the excellent pianists Christoph Berner and Camillo Radicke but also with the audience that left the Athens Concert Hall dazzled.

Aimez-vous Brahms?
Hell, we do!


Anonymous said...

Ι was there too. I liked Doufexis more than Petersen, I should say, and not because she is Greek as I am but because her interpretation was much more essential and of deeper sentimentality than the alto's. Petersen knows how to act on stage and this is her plus that attracts the audience and impresses them, which did not work with me. Doufexis really touched my heart and will remain in my memory much longer. I also found the tenor better than the baritone.
Surely the final applause goes to the composer and the poets who filled us with pictures of natural beauty and words of strong, romantic love.

DMC said...

Lieder boring? Never! Werner Gura is an excellent lieder singer and Brahms is a great composer. It's a pity the audience was so scarce. Glad you enjoyed it Parsi.

Parsifal said...

Anonymous, I will have to agree with u. And uncle Christos (you know who) also agreed with us when he was saying outloud "What a marvellous singer she is!" at the pauses between the lieder.

DMC, it's a pity that the audience was scarce but I can understand that due to the riots of the past few days, people are not in a mood for concert-going...

sensualmonk said...

hear, hear, herr parsifal! a welcome and much needed balsam, this concert, these days...

but only the encore?! i'm disappointed! :-( [please re-appoint me through an email? ;-) thanx!]

i was also disconcerted -as clearly ms. doufexis was- by uncle's comments, simply beacuse of their audibility, since they were entirely praiseful [incl. the highest possible praise, in my book: "she has the full measure of her art!"]. may we soon have the pleasure ot hear her live in athens in many more things!

i'd also agree with 'Anonymous' above re: the ravishing [vocally and otherwise] ms. petersen [adding that her non-forte high notes sounded to me a bit strained and brittle in her solo songs? i think she 'warmed up' in the second half]

something very odd was happening to/with k.jarnot [whom i had not heard before, live or recorded] in his solo songs. my immediate reaction was: "he's either a tenor, or ill - or both". the excellent blending of all four singers in the second part, and his little solo exposure there, were therefore most welcome [to all, i suspect]. but i agree that he has a 'noble' interpretative manner

but clearly s.doufexis and w.gura are in a class of their own - and she was, for me, the more touching, and all-round 'musical' of the two. however, extra points to w.gura for 'accepting' to 'open' the concert, and tackle the musically least interesting solo songs!

Parsifal said...

Hey sensualmonk! I didn't want to write what I actually heard of mr. Jarnot 'cause the contrast would be uneven with all the praise. I actually heard 3 voices (a strange low register among them) and he was a bit weird on stage...But it didn't really bother me.

You 'll have the recording asap! ;)