Lieder by Pfitzner, Strauss & Mahler
Only minutes into my first recital encounter with Christianne Stotijn (Berg, Schubert and Wolf, 6/06), her Lieder credentials were secure. Here was a singer whose voice and intelligence melded seamlessly with words, vocal line and whatever dramatic concept was at hand. That impression only intensifies – as her vocal colours grow richer – in ‘Stimme der Sehnsucht’, a programme of Pfitzner, Strauss and Mahler Lieder sung not just with her customary mastery but always with something significant to discover with each listening, even in less memorable Pfitzner songs. As easily as one might fall into lazy listening with the better-known songs such as ‘Zueignung’ and ‘Morgen!’, Stotijn’s vivid performances make you examine the texts anew just to appreciate her sudden burst of vocal colour (‘Zueignung’ goes into the Jessye Norman zone) or her onomatopoeic effects, which give the characters within the songs a near-physical presence.
Less exalted moments can be oddly notable as well: Strauss’s quirky ‘Schlechtes Wetter’, a slice of life about women enduring bad weather for the sake of mundane household tasks, has humour but no punchline and satire without a clear judgement. Amid that ambiguity, the Stotijn/Breinl version goes to places that the composer’s own recording doesn’t fathom, with the pianist finding a clumsy bourgeois waltz in one verse and Stotijn treating the vocal line with a recklessness that reminds you not to take anything literally.
The soul of the disc is Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder in one of the more convincing piano-accompanied performances, partly for the way pianist Joseph Breinl explores fine points of harmonic characterisation that are lost amid washes of sound in the more frequently heard orchestral version. Interpretatively, Stotijn turns the songs into repeated attempts to find the comfort of normality amid a tragedy whose impact won’t relent. The final song confronts the worst guilt of all – a mother allowing their children out into a storm and then denying that she did so. Yet this particularly wrenching version of Kindertotenlieder comes with a resolution that the listeners need even though Mahler didn’t provide one. Stotijn follows Mahler with Strauss’s ‘Morgen!’, a song that can mean many things but is sequenced here to be a vision of meeting loved ones in the afterlife – yet another reason why Stotijn is God’s gift to Christa Ludwig admirers.