Dorothee Mields: War & Peace 1618:1918
Fear, pain, desperation, gallows humour, longing for peace: experiences of war have changed little since earliest record. But what about the art that emerges from it? In a beautifully conceived and constructed recital, the soprano Dorothee Mields and the German early music ensemble Lautten Compagney invite us to compare and contrast the music of conflicts divided by exactly 300 years. In an anniversary year that marks both the start of the Thirty Years War and the end of the First World War, music by Schütz, Scheidt and Isaac finds itself standing shoulder to shoulder with songs by Hanns Eisler and Friedrich Hollaender.
Rather than divide the two discs by era, Mields and her collaborators organise their material thematically. You can see why – it’s an approach that draws out musical connections and collides repertoire for maximum drama, jolting us from a severe Lutheran chorale into sardonic Weimar cabaret – and enables some clever arrangements by Bo Wiget that bring contemporary irony into traditional songs and traditional instruments into wartime Berlin.
Satie’s Gymnopédies get a homespun, hurdy-gurdy quality as arranged for early instruments, as well as something of the sinister churn of ‘Der Leiermann’, while the cornett becomes suddenly bluesy and sardonic in Hollaender’s darkly cynical songs (sample lyric ‘Was my father a prince or a drunkard?’). We get a wonderful range here from the grotesque excesses of the composer’s ‘Die Hungerkünstlerin’ to the repressed bitterness of ‘In den Abdenwind geflüstert’ but it’s the Eisler songs that are the standouts – their quieter ironies destroying you as bladed lyrics stab through smiling melodies. It’s brutal stuff.
Mields is impeccable throughout, the pristine purity of the early songs setting off the calculated exaggerations and distortions of the contemporary ones. This is a brilliant, unexpected disc, but cries out for the energy and audience interplay of a live performance.