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Between Life and Death - Prégardien / Gees

Between Life and Death - Prégardien / Gees

Challenge Classics  CC 72324 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Bach: Komm, süßer Tod BWV 478
Mahler: Urlicht (Symphony no. 2); Revelge (Des Knaben Wunderhorn); Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (Fünf Rückertlieder)
Schubert: Schwanengesang op. 23, no. 3; Auflösung D 807; Der Jüngling und der Tod D 545; Der Tod und das Mädchen D 531; Kriegers Ahnung D 957 no. 2
Schumann: Stirb, Lieb’ und Freud! op. 35, no. 2
W.A. Mozart: Abendempfindung KV 523
Brahms: Feldeinsamkeit op. 86 no. 2; Wie rafft’ ich mich auf op. 32, no. 1
Loewe: Edward Op.1, no. 1; Erlkönig op. 1 no. 3
Weber: Max's recitative and aria, Freischütz
Wolf: Mörike-Lieder, no. 39; Goethe-Lieder, no. 29; Eichendorff-lieder, no. 4; Spanisches Liederbuch - Weltliche Lieder, no. 22
Mendelssohn: Neue Liebe op.19, 4
Tchaikovsky: Lensky's Aria - Eugen Onegin op. 24

Christoph Prégardien (tenor)
Michael Gees (piano)


The protagonist of the new album by Christoph Prégardien and Michael Gees has not yet arrived on the scene at the start and is awaited with the greatest yearning. “Come sweet death! Come blessed rest! Come, lead me in peace, for I am weary of the world, ah come!” Thus the opening of the aria from Bach’s Schemelli Liederbuch, which starts the programme “Between Life and Death”. Death not as the end but as the beginning of a better life – perhaps this message, filled with baroque certainty of salvation and unshakeable quietude, sounds as remote for us today as the afterlife itself. Christoph Prégardien frankly admits to admiring the people of Bach’s time somewhat for their trusting relationship to death: “Today death has been pushed out of our life almost completely, outlawed to the hospital ward and old people’s home. And this is the very reason we have compiled our programme: so that people become a little more aware that death is always in our midst. That we can’t ignore it, but have to accept it.”

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Review by John Miller - October 31, 2009

For some years, tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Michael Gees have been researching this themed recital, then honing its performance in concerts. Now set down on two discs, their survey of changing attitudes towards Death, as expressed in the German Lied or art song over several centuries, is a moving tribute to the inventiveness of the human spirit. The first two songs immediately display the vast gap between JS Bach's simple and trusting attitude towards death (of 20 children he fathered, only 10 of them survived infancy), and the much later lonely Romantic soul of Mahler's 'Urlicht', trembling on the threshold of a glorious Resurrection through the power of Love.

CD 1
1 Bach: Komm, süßer Tod BWV 478
2 Mahler: Symphony no. 2, no.4
3 Schubert: Schwanengesang op. 23, no. 3
4 Schumann: Stirb, Lieb’ und Freud! op. 35, no. 2
5 Schubert: Auflösung D 807
6 W.A. Mozart: Abendempfindung KV 523
7 Brahms: Feldeinsamkeit op. 86 no. 2
8 Brahms: Wie rafft’ ich mich auf op. 32, no. 1
9 Loewe: Edward Op.1, no. 1
10 von Weber: Max's recitative and aria, Freischütz

CD 2
11 Wolf: Mörike-Lieder, no. 39
12 Schubert: Der Jüngling und der Tod D 545
13 Schubert: Der Tod und das Mädchen D 531
14 Wolf: Goethe-Lieder, no. 29
15 Wolf: Eichendorff-lieder, no. 4
16 Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Neue Liebe op.19, 4
17 Loewe: Erlkönig op. 1 no. 3
18 Wolf: Spanisches Liederbuch - Weltliche Lieder, no. 22
19 Tchaikowsky: Lensky's Aria - Eugen Onegin op. 24
20 Schubert: Kriegers Ahnung D 957 no. 2
21 Mahler: Revelge (Des Knaben Wunderhorn)
22 Mahler: Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, Fünf Rückertlieder, no. 4

This fascinating survey is an absorbingly rich amalgam, a product from no less than four creative sources, those of poet, composer, singer and pianist. It reveals an astonishing variety of moods and views on the subject of Death, as an inevitable physical reality and metaphysically as a poetic analogy for various states of mind, such as a lover's delirium or an ecstatic melding with the beauties of Nature. The realities here include a mother's anguish for her dying son (Carl Loewe's ballad 'Edward'), the dying warrior (Schubert's 'Kriegers Ahnung') and Mahler's biting satire on militarism ('Revelge'). Poetic 'deaths' are visualised by Mozart ('Abendemphindung'), Schumann ('Stirb, Lieb’ und Freud!'), Brahms ('Feldeinsamkeit') and ultimately Mahler ('I am lost unto the World'), a dissolution of the soul into the Cosmos. It is also good to hear Carl Loewe's dramatic 'Erl King', too often under the shadow of Schubert's version, the brief appearance of Mendelssohn's elfin 'New Love', and the varied richness of the Wolf songs.

A particularly inspired feature of the recital is the inclusion of two operatic arias as well as a Wunderhorn song from Mahler's Resurrection Symphony. Divested of their distracting orchestral raiment, these are given especially intense dramatic characterisations, with Gees giving insightful support to Prégardien's powerfully eloquency. Freischütz's Max has a turbulent struggle with his desire for Agatha which ends in his elemental cry "Is there no God?"; Tchaikovsky and Pushkin's Lensky mourns loss of love and youth as he waits for probable death in an imminent pistol duel. In all of these varied pieces, the vastly experienced Prégardien and Gees adopt each composer's style in a chameleon-like fashion.

Prégardien's voice is darkening, and he inhabits his baritone range very effectively, bringing an impressive authority to his vocal acting. His long partnership with Gees ensures equality in performance, which is an essential ingredient of the German Lied. Piano preludes and postludes from Brahms, Schumann and Wolf are thus given due weight in the narration, as is the pictorialism of their piano parts. The duo's consummate artistry in compiling and performing this study of literary and musical views of death is evident in every bar, none more so than the final moments of Mahler's 'I am lost unto the world', exquisitely tender and still, the last words a mere breath above the softest caress of piano keys.

The DXD/DSD recorded sound, whether multichannel or stereo, is state of the art in terms of natural balance and tonal beauty. Recording for Challenge Classics, NorthStar engineering has ensured that voice and piano sing with limpid clarity into the 'black' noiseless acoustic of the famous Galaxy Studios in Mol, Belgium. The listener is afforded a privileged seat before the artists. A fine essay by Jörg Königsdorf guides us through the performers' views on the programme in German, English and French, while the texts are reproduced in German with good English translations.

Challenge Classics have here added a significant and indispensable album to the rather meagre collection of Lieder on SACD, but in any format this is a superb release. It is (paradoxically) an uplifting survey of how the literary and musical arts combine in the continuing struggle to understand and come to terms with our human condition.

Copyright © 2009 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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