Ann Murray and Malcolm Martineau: Schumann, Mahler, Britten

The program is varied,
which starts with Mahler set of five R¸ckert-Lieder, songs that date
from the first decade of the twentieth century. Murray’s thoughtful
performance of these songs is a good reminder of how fresh the pieces can be
in the hands of a musician like her, who is sensitive to both the melodic
line and the text. Nowhere does she overstate what is implicit in the text,
especially in “Liebst du um Schˆnheit,” a subtle song that works
well with Murray’s understated approach to the piece that requires the
control of an experienced Lieder singer.

At times the music reaches beyond the intimacy of the fine acoustic used
for this recording, as with “Um Mitternacht,” with its hymn-like
echoes that call to mind the orchestration Mahler made. If Murray is
sometimes overtly extraverted in interpreting this piece, her subtlety is all
the more apparent in “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,” a song
that the composer himself thought to be one of his finest efforts. Martineau
certainly creates a fine ensemble with Murray in delivering this song, and
the nuances he contributes anticipate the way he approached some of the other
music on the CD in what is essentially a recital at Crear.

It is unusual to find a work from an earlier period following such a
modern one as Mahler’s R¸ckert-Lieder, and the placement of Robert
Schumann’s cycle Frauenliebe und Leben at the center of this
recording is a wise choice. Albert von Chamiso’s texts point out some
moments in a woman’s existence, which receive a fine treatment from
Murray and Martineau. While the room sometimes swallows a few of
Murray’s lines, it also offers a good ambiance to the piano. The
performers give the pieces a proper ensemble, as occurs in the second song of
the cycle, “Er, der Herrlichste von allen.” The understatement in
“Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben” fits the tone of
the piece well and shows the supportive role Martineau can offer when playing
this repertoire. All in all, this is a solid performance of this familiar
cycle that benefits from the even and appealing treatment of the vocal line
that Ann Murray brings to the recording.

Yet the pieces by Britten on this CD are treasures. Less familiar than
either the pieces by Mahler or Schumann, the Charm of Lullabies is a
work that deserves to be part of more programs, placed, perhaps, after music
that is more traditional. Murray brings personal and effective expression to
the English poetry Britten set, with the charming Scottish tones of
“The Highland Balou,” a setting of Burns that cannot be missed
for its incessant Scotch-snap rhythm in the accompaniment. In the hands of a
composer like Britten, English is a highly lyric language, and that aspect of
the pieces is not lost on Murray. The patter-song influence on “A
charm,” a setting of poetry by Thomas Randolph, is effective in
rendering a different kind of lullaby. “Sleep! Or I will make Erinnys
whip thee with a snake” and the lines that follow are hardly the kind
of verse an earnest parent would offer before sleep. Yet the final piece,
“The Nurse’s Song,” with version by the sixteenth-century
poet John Philip contains some wonderfully seductive harmonies.

Restful as that piece may be, the first of Britten’s Cabaret
, “Calypso” can rouse anyone’s attention with its
strident whistle. The archness of the texts of this song, as well as the tone
of the others in the set, sounds as though the music was conceived for
Murray, who delivers them with panache. Martineau accompanies her with
finesse, as these somewhat popular-sounding songs round out this engaging
program. Britten’s effort in these songs, as well as the others he
composed, shows the development of the artsong in the twentieth century. Not
precisely Lieder in the strictest sense, these pieces are enjoyable because
of the way in which the text and the music balance each other smartly. As
with the Charm of Lullabies, the composer chose his texts carefully,
an aspect of his song output that makes the music attractive to performers
and their audience.

James L. Zychowicz

image_description=Ann Murray and Malcolm Martineau: Schumann, Mahler, Britten
product_title=Ann Murray and Malcolm Martineau: Schumann, Mahler, Britten.
product_by=Ann Murray, mezzo-soprano, and Malcolm Martineau piano.
product_id=Avie AV2077 [CD]