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Hyperion Records

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Photograph of Matthew Polenzani by Sim Canetty-Clarke (b?)
Track(s) taken from CDA67782
Recording details: February 2010
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: November 2010
Total duration: 14 minutes 39 seconds

'Polenzani is evidently a tenor of the finest quality: a lyric voice, sweet and ingratiating, with the capacity to ring out excitingly, gloriously easy on high but with a perfectly adequate body to the tone in its middle and lower registers. He is firm and even, pleasingly expressive … he sings with warmth, intelligence and conviction, matching the superb playing of his pianist Julius Drake' (Gramophone)

'Polenzani remains an extraordinarily communicative Lieder singer, possessed of an agile and flexible voice of tremendous versatility. In the most intimate of these settings, as well as in the quasi-operatic ones, Polenzani and Drake create performances that are at once thoughtful, richly atmospheric and never less than compelling … this auspicious inauguration of the series whets the appetite for more' (International Record Review)

'This stupendous disc, issued ahead of the Liszt bicentenary next year, marks the start of Hyperion's survey of his complete songs, still a grey area for many despite past attempts by major artists such as Brigitte Fassbaender and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to rehabilitate them … as with so much of his music, their difficulty in performance is to be found in their emotional and expressive extremes. The challenges are more than met here, with Polenzani doing things in songs such as Der Fischerknabe or Pace Non Trovo that you never thought were possible for a human voice, while Drake's intensity is total and unswerving' (The Guardian)

Lieder aus Schillers Wilhelm Tell, S292 First version
1845; LW N32
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The tale of the fourteenth-century Swiss folk hero Wilhelm Tell, who supposedly rebelled against Austrian domination and was one of the founders of the Swiss Confederation, was celebrated in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the symbol of resistance to tyranny. Most scholars now consider Tell to be fiction, not historical fact, but 200 years ago, many people believed the sixteenth-century Swiss historian Aegidius Tschudi’s inventions, Tell chief among them. Goethe considered writing a play on the subject and then gave the idea to his friend Friedrich von Schiller, who wrote his drama Wilhelm Tell in 1803–4. (Adolf Hitler, initially enthusiastic about the play in Mein Kampf, banned it in 1941. ‘Why did Schiller have to immortalize that Swiss sniper?’, he is reported to have said.) Act 1 begins not with the principal dramatis personae but with three Rollenlieder, or ‘character songs’ for a young fisherman, a herder, and an Alpine huntsman. Schiller directed that each song be sung to a ‘Kuhreihen’, or ‘ranz des vaches’, the horn melodies traditionally played by Swiss herdsmen as they drove their cattle to and from pasture (a category of folk music much romanticized in the nineteenth century). The first version of Liszt’s Lieder aus Schillers Wilhelm Tell, from 1845, however, is the opposite of folk-like simplicity, with the three songs, thrilling in their virtuosity, following one after the next in unbroken succession.

The first song, ‘Der Fischerknabe’, is Schiller’s variation on the German-speaking world’s Wasser-Mythos, or water-mythology, with nixies, sirens, and mermaids symbolizing the simultaneous allure and danger of female sexuality for men. Liszt begins with a lengthy water-music introduction for the piano and follows with a song whose enharmonic shifts, intricate pianistic textures, and huge range for both performers are echt early Liszt. The unnamed narrator who tells the tale ends by reporting the water-spirit’s words of triumph as she lures the lad into the water; her sinuous vocal melismas on the word ‘Ah’ at the climax seem like a new incarnation of Homer’s death-dealing sirens and their wordless songs.

With ‘Der Hirt’, Liszt sets a text that Robert Schumann would claim four years later as ‘Des Sennen Abschied’, Op 79 No 22 (from the Liederalbum für die Jugend, 1849). The two songs could not be more different. Liszt brings his genius for stylized word-painting—this is rather like a symphonic tone-poem but for voice and piano—to bear on Schiller’s poem in a manner unlike Schumann’s poignant, artfully simple song for children. Over and over, we hear a sophisticated version of the ‘ranz des vaches’, along with the cuckoo calling and distant thunder in the piano postlude as a corridor to ‘Der Alpenjäger’, one of Liszt’s most challenging songs. ‘Ma fin est mon commencement’: this is a true cycle that ends where it began, with a reminiscence of ‘Der Fischerknabe’ in the piano postlude.

from notes by Susan Youens © 2010

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