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Széchényi: Songs - Ruckgaber / Kupfer / Thalheimer / Deutsch

Széchényi: Songs - Ruckgaber / Kupfer / Thalheimer / Deutsch

Audiomax  903 2019-6

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Imre Széchényi: 6 Romances, Le rosier, Das Blatt im Buche, Vorbei, Komm, o Nacht, La Bas, Waldeinsamkeit, Nachtgrus, Der Gefangene, Erster Schnee, Ja Winter warfs, Die Lerchen, Bölcsödal, Der traumende See, O kommf in mein Schiffl ein, Il Ritrovo in Mare, Es fallt ein Stern herunter

Katharina Ruckgaber (soprano)
Jochen Kupfer (tenor)
Peter Thalheimer (csakan)
Helmut Deutsch (piano)


Forgotten Songs by an Internationalist
Imre Széchényi composed throughout his life – even though he really and truly had many other things to do. After diplomatic missions to Rome, Stockholm, Brussels, Paris, and St. Petersburg he represented the interests of the Habsburg monarchy as the Austro-Hungarian ambassador in imperial Berlin. Bismarck’s famous and notorious Alliance of the Three Emperors bears Széchényi’s signature, and he played a significant role at the Berlin Conference on the Congo. His international experience is also reflected in his songs, which on this rewarding new release are now certainly being heard for the first time in very many years.

Széchényi grew up at the Vienna court and made remarkable friendships during his journeys: Johann Strauß and Franz Liszt were among the musicians who repeatedly included the diplomat’s works in their concert programs. Strauß dedicated some of his own works to him, and Széchényi joined forces with Liszt to establish a music academy in Budapest. His great love for his native country is also shown in his settings of Hungarian texts, which was not a typical option during those times. In “Le Rosier” the czakan joins the soprano and the piano – surely a performance opportunity for this traditional Hungarian walking-stick flute unique in the whole of music history.

Moreover, Széchényi used French, German, and Italian texts as sources for his songs. German romanticism of course plays a great role with poets including Eichendorff, Heine, and Uhland. Széchényi dedicated Schubart’s “Der Gefangene” to a friend imprisoned after the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution – which did not stop the Habsburg emperor from naming him a Knight of the Golden Fleece.

Accompanied by Helmut Deutsch on the venerable “Manfred Bürki” Steinway D, Katharina Ruckgaber and Jochen Kupfer once again bring these wonderful songs to life. Whether alone or in a duet, the manifold influences in Széchényi’s musical language distinguished by internationalism invite us to discover familiar things in surprising things. Inquisitive listeners and discriminating music lovers get what they are looking for on this carefully honed Super Audio CD representing recording technology at its finest!

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Review by John Broggio - September 4, 2017

A fascinating glimpse into a musical life that was very nearly lost to history.

Imre Széchényi is not the "typical" composer (such that they ever are so!), for he is part of the Austro-Hungarian nobility who went into the diplomatic service and picked up musical friends like Johann Strauss along the way. His sister-in-law played his 4-handed compositions and rehearsed songs with no less a compatriot than Liszt but as her great-grandson recounts, the last time these songs were performed prior to this disc was likely 1920 when she was in her early 80s. This disc presents 22 of 32 songs recently rediscovered (a CD on Hungaroton presents the remainder) and one can understand Liszt's fondness for them.

Opening the disc is a collection of six romances (in French), given to the soprano Katharina Ruckgaber. In the slower passages, Ruckgaber sings very beautifully indeed but in some of the less sympathetically written moments of (particularly) "Si j'étais petit oiseau", her upper register snatches at the higher notes that becomes a little grating upon repetition (most of these songs are strophic). Where the higher notes are more sustained rather than coloratura, this unfortunate characteristic disappears.

In the following "Le rosier", Ruckgaber is joined by Peter Thalheimer on the csakan (an instrument derived from Hungarian folk heritage that sounds like a soft-toned recorder); the duet is very touching and is one of highlights, from every perspective, of the disc. Soon afterwards, Jochen Kupfer takes up the vocal reins and immediately ones musical ears pick up - the accompaniment (however serviceable earlier) from Helmut Deutsch also instantly becomes more involving as well. Sadly Kupfer has fewer opportunities in this recital than may be considered ideal. The one brief duet presented here is arguably one of the highlights of this disc and closes proceedings.

The notes are well written and provides a brief historical and biographical context while also discussing the songs presented here. One slightly frustrating aspect of the notes, although understandable, is the focus on how Széchényi influenced others to the exclusion on how others influenced Széchényi; there are clear examples of inspiration from Schubert for example but this is sadly omitted. MDG's sound is exhibits the usual richness and clarity and provides a sympathetic acoustic for all performers.

As the likely sole performances these songs are likely to receive for a generation, this is in many ways self-recommending. It is a pity that the main protagonists were not all of the same level of inspiration.

Copyright © 2017 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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