If Art Song needs to be re-invented to survive and evolve, the new CD “Serious Songs” from bass-baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes (ABC Classics 476-4383) points in the right direction.
The CD takes its title from Brahms’ Four Serious Songs,originally composed for bass and piano, and given a new guise by the German Detlev Glanert (b 1960). Glanert has written extensively for the voice, and his orchestral setting of this quartet of songs is sensitive with the added innovation of four preludes and a postlude interspersed with the songs. (See our link to an interview of Glanert on his orchestration of Brahms’ Four Serious Songs).
In this spirit of presenting a different perspective, the opening track is Schubert’s Erl Konigorchestrated by Reger. It’s repeated later in the recording in its original version, along with three other Schubert Lieder (An die Musik, D547, Die Forelle D 550, and Die Taubenpost D 957).
Both re-interpretations stay true to Fischer –Dieskau’s basic tenet of Lieder that”the accompaniment is an integral part of the composition”
Also on this CD, excerpts from Brahms’ Ein Deutsche Requiem opus 45, which should please fans of choral music for its choral content and Samuel Barber’s opus 3 Dover Beach, text by Matthew Arnold.
There is potential for melancholy when listening to this recording. Die Taubenpost and An die Musik, are the only notes of optimism in a collection that is otherwise pensive and ominous. Even Barber was diagnosed with depression in later life – though Dover Beach was written when he was just 21. The mix of old and new settings, the inclusion of the chorus, the variation in accompaniments – orchestral, piano and chamber – and Rhodes’ own towering performance defray this risk.
There is something singular about the way German text sits in the bass – baritone voice and in the way the German/Austrian Romantics set the text to music. It is always a thrill to listen to Teddy Tahu Rhodes. Seriousness is a real emotion and an inescapable part of our lives. To channel it through the pleasure of music and Rhodes’ singing is ultimately a propitious way of immortalizing this music.