STRAUSS Lieder (Maria Bengtsson)
Maria Bengtsson is an experienced soprano with many major Strauss roles on her CV, and here she brings plenty of creamy tone and vocal security to a satisfying selection of the composer’s songs. There’s no personal statement from either Bengtsson or the excellent Sarah Tysman in MDG’s booklet but it seems as though their approach to the repertoire, despite the soprano’s rich operatic pedigree, constitutes an attempt to reclaim these songs as Lieder rather than as arias manqués, as works of reflection and introspection rather than extroversion (and overexertion).
Barnstorming is avoided, with the climaxes of such songs as ‘Allerseelen’ and ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’ dialled down: the first, despite a leisurely tempo, resolutely avoids sentimentality; the second almost grinds to a halt in its final verse at ‘Und will an die Brust dir sinken’, and resolutely resists getting carried away later on. It’s a fascinating approach, and one that is maintained with admirable consistency and restraint. It does also undoubtedly result in a couple of lovely performances: listen to their unusually hushed ‘Traum durch die Dämmerung’, for example, the moving intimacy of their ‘Nachtgang’ or the patience of their ‘Ruhe meine Seele’.
But I also found myself starting to long for a bit more, for some extra excitement, for some passionate excess. And matters aren’t helped by the fact that Bengtsson’s characterisations remain rather generalised – she doesn’t do a great deal with words, leaving much of the comic potential of ‘Schlechtes Wetter’, for example, unexplored. The voice, though undoubtedly beautiful, also has a slight haziness to it (at least as captured here), and doesn’t always grab the note as firmly as one would like. Tysman plays a 1901 Steinway model D and obtains some beguiling sounds from it, but the instrument’s somewhat mellow tone adds to the recital’s slightly unassertive feel. Not a fully satisfying listen, then, but an often fascinating one nonetheless.