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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: 2 minutes 33 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)

Im Rhein, im schönen Strome, S272 First version ossia
1840; LW N3
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
When Liszt in 1856 heard that the poet Heinrich Heine had died, Mathilde Wesendonck (who wrote the poems for Richard Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder) asked him if he thought that Heine’s name would be inscribed in the temple of immortality. ‘Yes, but in mud’, Liszt famously replied. The two men knew each other in Paris, but Heine could, and often did, attack erstwhile comrades with the razor-sharp weapon of his matchless wit, and his dislike for Liszt the man eventually outweighed his qualified admiration for Liszt the performer. Fortunately, Liszt created some of the best Heine songs of the century—and Heine was enormously popular with composers—before the ultimate rift between the two men in 1844, and one of those songs is Im Rhein, im schönen Strome. Heine initially supported the massive campaign to complete the building of Cologne Cathedral (the Kölner Dom, officially the Hohe Domkirche St Peter und Maria), begun in 1248 to house the Shrine of the Three Kings but left unfinished in the sixteenth century. The poet even served as vice-president of the Parisian fundraising committee but withdrew when he realized that the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV had reactionary politico-religious reasons for underwriting the project. But it is the poet’s youthful fascination with the cathedral and its treasures that infuses this poem, in which Heine invokes the famous retable altarpiece depicting The Adoration of the Magi (the scene when opened) and The Annunciation (the scene when closed) by the late Gothic artist Stephan Lochner from c1440–45. The pious Catholic Liszt was more deeply involved in the Cologne Cathedral enterprise than was Heine: Liszt was elected an honorary member of the steering committee in 1841 and gave concerts on behalf of the giant building project in Berlin and Cologne. We hear his first setting of these words, composed in 1840, in which Liszt creates cascading water-music half a century before Debussy and Ravel made watery strains a hallmark of Impressionism in music. We cannot mistake the sheer power of this river as it ripples up and down the length of the piano. (The later setting brings the river’s waves under control and darkens them in accord with the increased melancholy of his late songs.) For the first setting Liszt provides a choice of two piano accompaniments, and on this recording we hear the ‘ossia’ version—marked, with some understatement, ‘più difficile’.

from notes by Susan Youens © 2010

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