Christine Brewer is not a name that springs to mind when it comes to Lieder singers, and it's easy to understand why. Her career has focused upon opera, and there's little doubt that is where Ms Brewer's greatest love lies. Her voice is more than ample - often luscious, often beautiful, and with a fabulous range.
I listened to this recording with pleasure, even though that pleasure was alloyed with some dissatisfaction. To sing Lieder is not the same as singing opera. It's much more intimate and much more detailed on a smaller scale - it's like a painting seen up close, so that every flaw is laid bare, every quiver and tremble, every moment of blandness, every lack of wordplay.
With the best Lieder singers in the world, one is in a ferment of delirious pleasure. The words come alive, highlighted with highly intellectual and yet deeply emotional use of the musical aspects of the Lied, given edge and dimension by exquisite and pointed use of the words themselves. There really are not many great Lieder singers in the world today...
What we see in Ms Brewer is musical intelligence and a glorious voice, some quite good approach to the Lieder, but not that perfect connection between words and music which speaks to the listener without doubt, without a single loss of textual meaning, without a moment's veering from the beauty of the song to the strings of the heart. The Lieder singing on this disc is good, but not great. In terms of sheer singing...? Lovely, but that's not exactly the same thing.
Christine Brewer's voice and technique give many of the songs on this recording a beautiful sense of spacious richness, soaring easily into the notes. The text did not soar... Perhaps I am expecting too much, but that is what I want with Lieder singing. Ms Brewer did best with the dramatic coloratura Lieder, where her voice showed what a magnificent vehicle it is. But when it came to the more intimate Lieder, "Zugeignung" for instance, or in PARTICULAR the heartbreaking "Befreit", the problem becomes apparent - she does not move the heart with the poetry that should strike like an arrow through the soul. For this, we must still rely on the Schwarzkopf recordings, or a very moving recording made by Margaret Price.
Some of the Lieder on this disc are unusual, and it is strange indeed to see such masterpieces not in the public repertoire. Perhaps this recording will remedy the lack.
In spite of my faint qualms, I consider this a very good disc, and I look forward to more in the series.