With highly regarded complete editions of Schubert’s and Schumann’s songs to their name, Hyperion has embarked on another such venture, this time recording all the lieder of Brahms. Angelika Kirchschlager and Graham Johnson inaugurated the series last year, and now soprano Christine Schäfer, also accompanied by Johnson, has made her contribution.
More appealing, if hardly less cheerful, than its miserable cover photo, this recital shows Schäfer on top form, combining artistry with a crystal-clear voice. Her rather delicate soprano is at its loveliest in the ethereal Ophelia-Lieder and in the six folksongs which end the recital, but when expansiveness is required – as in the Mädchenfluch – she’s quite compelling.
Schäfer’s bright, compact soprano is not one in which to luxuriate: her word painting is excellent, but her palette is inherently limited, and there’s a certain whiteness to the voice which occasionally grows wearying, particularly in such a stylistically similar program. But her sweetness of timbre and her textual acuity usually win out in the end, and she has a gift for capturing the emotional vicissitudes of this often turbulent poetry – the intense, sometimes erotic Mädchenlieder (not written as a cycle, but evidently envisaged by the composer as a group) are a particularly fine example of this.
Graham Johnson, one of the world’s finest vocal accompanists and a stalwart of Hyperion’s song editions, is a characteristically sensitive partner. If Hyperion have started as it means to continue, this new Brahms edition should be just as significant an achievement – and just as irresistibly collectable – as its predecessors.