Renée Fleming—Lieder

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Renée Fleming is a glorious singer of lieder, showcased here in a 2019 CD release of Romantic and late Romantic art songs. Works by Brahms, Schumann and Mahler are included, with the latter represented by his ‘Rückert-Lieder’ in the orchestral version. The Brahms and Schumann songs are accompanied by pianist Hartmut Höll. His playing, and the Münchner Philharmoniker conducted by the very musical Christian Thielemann are spectacular.

In conjunction with a stellar recording by Decca—I’m hard pressed to think of a recent recording with a better piano tone—Fleming in mainstream repertoire is pretty hard to beat.

So, why did I feel slight disappointment? Can one be overly expressive in these types of songs?

Fleming’s vaunted control over every aspect of the musicality inspired by the three great composers is still to fore, but in many songs, she gild’s the lily. I like the breathlessness in Brahms’ ‘Ständchen‘ but often times she approaches notes from below. This happens in quite a few songs. Sticking with Brahms, the Lullaby sounds as if sung by a dowager aunt rather than a young mom—lots of portamento with a glop of Nestlé’s cream (gotta be English). Lovely, but too much.

The Schumann songs fare better. The quiet intensity echoing the overall lifestyle of the great man.

The vibrato throughout—recorded live and in studio over a five year period—seems consistent, which in itself is a blessing as it is so beautiful.

Interestingly, the best performance is saved for last and was recorded live with the orchestra over nine years ago. Mahler’sRückert-Lieder’
in its orchestral version with the Münchner Philharmoniker/Christian Thielemann.

A decade is a long time for a singer (Fleming is 60 years old) and for a musician living life in his 60s, I can tell you producing the same tone and technique as a decade previous is a full time job, and still impossible.

The younger Fleming matches the glorious playing of the orchestra and you have to wait no more than the opening phrase of ‘Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft‘ (I breathed the breath of blossoms red) to hear the voice is in much better nick. Here, Fleming’s musicality is wedded to flawless technique. The notes are pinpoint and the text Is projected with all its tenderness. A superb performance.

The Mahler was recorded in the Gasteig, Munich, a barn of a place with awful acoustics, but Decca waves a magic wand over the proceedings—everything is burnished gold with detail .

Look, Ms. Fleming is still a long way from hanging them up, but time waits for no man—or women’s voice. The CD is worth purchase for the Mahler along with a lovely set from Schumann. I think the Brahms songs, however, are better served elsewhere.

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Wiegenlied, Op 49 No 4 [2:05]
Ständchen, Op 106 No 1 [1:38]
Lerchengesang, Op 70 No 2 [2:49]
Mondnacht, WoO 21 [2:37]
Des Liebsten Schwur, Op 69 No 4 [2:42]
Die Mainacht, Op 43 No 2 [4:18]
Da unten im Tale WoO 33 No 6 [2:20]
Vergebliches Ständchen, Op 84 No 4 [1:49]

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Frauenliebe und Leben, Op 42 [23:12]

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Rückert-Lieder [17:54]

Renée Fleming (soprano)
Hartmut Höll (piano)
Münchner Philharmoniker/Christian Thielemann
rec. 2017, Italian Institute of Culture, Budapest; and live, October 2010, Philharmonie im Gasteig, Munich

Decca 483 2335 [61:23]