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Ann Murray - Brahms & Schumann: Lieder - MusicWeb International


08 May 2015
MusicWeb International
John Quinn

We learn from a note on the Linn Records website that this is to be Dame Ann Murray's valedictory Lieder recording. The disc is something of a family affair because it includes contributions from Ann Murray's son, Johnny Langridge - a tenor like his distinguished father - and from pianist, Hester Dickson, the mother of Malcolm Martineau. Two other singers, Benjamin Appl and John Mark Ainsley, also take part. Unfortunately the otherwise excellent documentation gives no clue as to who performs in which number so whilst it's easy to tell when Ann Murray herself or Benjamin Appl is singing the rest is unclear. After doing some determined digging on the Linn website I was able to establish that Malcolm Martineau and Hester Dickson provide the duet accompaniment for Murray in Hoch, hoch sind die Berge; Martineau plays everything else. Ainsley is Murray's partner in Ich denke Dein and she sings with her son in Familien-Gemalde.
 
The programme is well chosen; the songs suit Ann Murray's voice extremely well and it should be said straightaway that even if this is to be her last recording there is no evidence that I could detect of declining powers.

The bulk of the programme consists of music by Schumann. The Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Schumann's last set of solo songs, make an ideal opening. In the very first of these songs, ‘Abscheid von Frankreich' Murray offers lovely, warm tone and clarity of diction; these qualities will be consistent throughout the recital. She engages with the words and music fully yet without any unwarranted exaggeration. In that first song she conveys Mary's regret as she leaves France for Scotland. She's excellent, too, in ‘Abschied von der Welt' where her performance is moving. The concluding ‘Gebet', Mary's prayer on the eve of her execution, is delivered with fine feeling. This is a super account of these five songs.

Murray and Benjamin Appl share the Lieder und Gesange aus 'Wilhelm Meister'. Her singing continues on the same high level that we experienced in the Mary Stuart songs while Appl makes a very favourable impression. His is a well-focused voice and his sound is pleasing. His first contribution is ‘Ballade des Harfners', which he puts across very well; he tells the story. Murray sings ‘Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt' with affecting expression after which Appl and Martineau inject a fine sense of drama into ‘Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß'. Later, Appl has ‘An die Türen will ich schleichen', aptly described in the notes as "the epitome of terse tragedy that barely knows itself to be tragic." Here Appl is intense and I admired his thoughtful delivery of the song, the emotion well controlled.

Murray's duet with John Mark Ainsley is charming - and charmingly done. I'm less taken with the duet that she sings with her son. Johnny Langridge has a good voice and the partnership with his mother is effective. The trouble is that I don't find the music desperately interesting; it sounds a bit ‘domestic'.
 
To close the recital Ann Murray and Malcolm Martineau treat us to seven Lieder by Brahms. Murray is beautifully poised in her delivery of the touching Dein blaues Auge halt so still. The poem which Brahms set in Junge Liebe I is by Felix Schumann, the last of Robert and Clara's children. Brahms was the boy's godfather and this song was a Christmas gift to Clara. Murray is ardent and eager in her delivery and Martineau matches her approach. The vocal line takes Murray up to the top of her compass quite a bit and the gleam is still there.

I like the lightness of touch that both musicians bring to Standchen and I also appreciated Murray's lovely rendition of Wie Melodien zieht es. To close the programme she offers the celebrated Wiegenliedand what a nice, gentle envoi to her recording career this performance is. Murray's singing is touching but in no way sentimental.

This disc may be a farewell to the recording studio but so far as I know Ann Murray has no plans to retire fully, which will be welcome news for her many admirers. This fine singer leaves us with an excellent last recording which is completely up to the high standards of her distinguished career. Her various collaborators all make strong contributions too, not least Malcolm Martineau, who accompanies with all his customary understanding, flair and empathy for the music. Philip Hobbs has engineered - and produced - a very successful recording; I like the balance he has achieved between voice and keyboard. There's a comprehensive essay on the songs and all the texts and translations are set out clearly.


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