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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Hanns Eisler, Ernste Gesange, Lieder with Piano, Matthias Goerne

That Hanns Eisler (1898-1962) ended up settling in East Berlin in his last years may in part explain why we in the West (in the U.S. anyway) have heard less of his music than we might have otherwise. That is, until recently. He like so many in Germany during the Nazi years chose to emigrate (and we know all too well now the talents of those composers who perished in the holocaust) and so was allowed to continue on with his music without fear for his life.

Now that the world has aligned in different ways we can at last get access to more of his music. An especially fine release of his song output is to be had in the new CD Ernste Gesang, Lieder with Piano (Harmonia Mundi 902134), featuring the excellent baritone of Matthias Goerne, pianist Thomas Larcher, and the chamber group Ensemble Resonanz.

These are performances that convince by their conviction and passion. The "Ernste Gesang" includes the chamber group and has nearly all the bite and power of Berg at his finest, with a little of the R. Strauss of "Last Songs" as something reminiscent. The "Lieder with Piano" have great declamatory power and subtlety, of course in a more intimate setting. A bonus here is the presence of Eisler's "Piano Sonata, op. 1," a work that bolsters the case for his high merit as a key composer of the early modern period. Not all the lieder are modernist in the strict sense, but that matters little because the music is at a high level throughout, and Goerne soars beautifully through them all.

There is nothing but praise for this effort inside of me this morning. Goerne has a Fischer-Dieskau burnished beauty to his voice, and in the more dramatic moments he is stirring indeed. Everyone comes through here. For the early modernist enthusiast it is a must-not-miss. Everybody should get a copy, even!

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