LISZT Complete Songs Vol 5
Julius Drake’s survey of Liszt’s complete songs reaches its fifth volume with a recital by Allan Clayton, carefully tailored to his talents as both lyric tenor and vocal actor. In contrast to its predecessor, structured round the late songs, performed with careful restraint by Sasha Cooke (5/16), this is a disc of high drama and moody introversion, focused predominantly on Liszt’s Weimar years (1848 61) and the period immediately preceding them. The parameters are effectively established at the outset with two contrasting settings of Goethe’s ‘Freudvoll und leidvoll’, the first (1844) all soulful introspection, the second (1848) mercurial, impulsive and heated. The stylistic range of what follows is strikingly wide, as desire is undercut by irony and grand passions give way to stark reflections on time, age and mortality.
The choice of versions heightens the emotional pitch. In the fourth ‘Lorelei’ from 1860, with its weighty, turbulent piano-writing, Drake unleashes a virtuoso storm as the boat founders on the rocks and Clayton’s rapt vocal line fragments into terrified, expressionist parlando. The Victor Hugo settings, meanwhile, come in their original 1842 44 versions, darker and more flamboyant – albeit less successful – than the more familiar revisions. Clayton sings ‘Enfant, si j’étais roi’ with devil-may-care bravado but Drake can’t disguise the fact that the driven accompaniment, modified in the later version, sits uneasily with the text’s irony. The first ‘Comment disaient-ils’, meanwhile, is something of a bravura showpiece, capped with a cadenza that pushes Clayton almost to his limits.
A willingness to take risks, however, has always been integral to his singing, and the dividends are often enormous. The high tessitura of ‘O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst’ proves taxing, but the resulting pressure in his tone also reminds us that this most familiar of Liszt’s melodies is not so much a declaration of Romantic love as an urgent recommendation of sensuality as a means of warding off intimations of mortality. ‘Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth’ and ‘Ich möchte hingehn’, dramatic monologues in all but name and also haunted by thoughts of loss, decay and death, find him at his best in chilling performances in which sense and sound are fused in an intense expressive unit. There are also wonderful moments of lyrical reflection, though, and the way he sings ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’ with a poised mezza voce is breathtaking. Drake, meanwhile, invests every phrase with weight and meaning, and is, as ever, outstanding. Another fine disc in an exceptional series.