A programme of Lieder by Alban Berg and a cantata by K.A. Hartmann, tender, powerful and haunting pieces from a turbulent era in which not only the landscape of song was transformed.. If Alban Berg’s earliest songs found him deeply indebted to Richard Strauss and Debussy, under Arnold Schoenberg’s tutelage he was on the way to becoming a modern master in his own right. The “Sieben frühe Lieder” were subsequently chosen for publication by Berg from around thirty written under Schoenberg’s critical supervision. Nine other “Jugendlieder” also appear in this album, variously setting older poets and Berg’s contemporaries, taking up the language of new music with increasing confidence. “Fully tonal pasages set off others where the harmony slips from one ambiguity to another”, as Paul Griffiths notes in the liner text. Two fascinatingly-contrasting versions of “Schließe mir die Augen beide” - from 1900 and 1925 – illustrate the vast distance travelled by Berg in these two decades. “The 1925 setting is excitingly, invitingly strange, particularly as a response to a late Romantic lyric. But does it render obsolete the warmth and fluency of the earlier version? Does now eliminate then, or does it, rather enlarge the sphere of the possible?”
In authorizing the publication of his early songs, Berg obviously found an artistic value in going back. Karl Amadeus Hartmann had other grounds for returning to older material. His Lamento of 1955 was constructed from solo passages in a 1936/7 score for soprano, choir and piano, and was in the original form dedicated to Berg. Lamento was one of many works for which Hartmann had sought no outlet during the Nazi years and which he then felt the need to revise, while maintaining the music’s qualities of protest and mourning. “Lamento is a big piece”,Paul Griffiths writes, “one that thoroughly engages the two formidable musicians who present it here. Juliane Banse is the kind of singer Hartmann must have imagined, one who can maintain ease, power and warmth under difficult circumstances, whose singing conveys at once authority and vulnerability, and whose musical experience runs from Bach to the present day. Aleksandar Madžar similarly brings out the depth of history and the immediacy of feeling written into this work. Yet these artists also convey the desperate silence from which the piece started, when, living through unspeakable times, its composer could only lay down strong shadows for the future.”
Juliane Banse was born on the German side of Lake Constance, and brought up in Switzerland. She has been at the international forefront since her mid-twenties, with a repertory ranging from Bach and Mozart through nineteenth-century lieder and Mahler to contemporary music. She created the title role in Heinz Holliger’s Schneewittchen, which she recorded for her ECM debut, since when she has appeared for the label in works by Frank Martin and György Kurtág, as well as in a recital with András Schiff. The ECM recordings have caught the attention of both critics and public. Her account of Kurtág’s “Kafka Fragmente” won the Edison Award, the Midem Classical Award and the Japanese Modern Music Prize, while both her recital disc with András Schiff (“Songs of Debussy and Mozart”) and her starring role in Heinz Holliger’s opera “Schneewittchen” both netted Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik Bestenlist awards
Following studies in his native Belgrade and in Moscow, Aleksandar Madžar won third prize at the Leeds Competition in 1996. Having fulfilled the resulting engagements, however, he returned to studying and only re-embarked on his performing career in 2004, establishing himself as a virtuoso of thought and feeling as well as dexterity, in music from Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin to Ligeti. The present recording, the fruit of a regular collaboration with Banse, is not only his first for ECM but also one of very few he has made.
Concert activity: Juliane Banse’s busy schedule finds her singing in a new staging of Hindemith’s opera Cardillac at the Vienna State Opera through October. In January and February 2011, joined by clarinetist Sabine Meyer, Banse and Madžar undertake a series of chamber music evenings across Europe, with dates in Vevey, Florence, Zürich, Hamburg, Schweinfürt, Barcelona and Valladolid.
More details of Juliane Banse’s schedule at www.julianebanse.com and www.ecmrecords.com.