Liszt’s song output isn’t exactly staple fare. Hyperion’s laudable effort to rectify this neglect now pairs Allan Clayton and Julius Drake – a true partnership. Unsurprisingly, as the virtuoso pianist Liszt undoubtedly was, the piano parts serve much more purpose than mere accompaniment and colour. Julius Drake is on most-sensitive form, exquisitely delicate at times, yet bringing out all the lyricism and depth of the writing. The rather spacious acoustic of the two recording venues adds a nocturnal bloom as well as airy reverberance – only occasionally, and usually in the bass-heavy accompaniments, does this muddy some of the detail in Liszt’s piano effects. It would have been interesting to know which songs were recorded in which venue!
Clayton is on communicative form, essaying the many moods with a beguiling sense of spontaneity and with every word telling. His ability to sing ethereally and lightly is a distinct asset as is the capacity to darken the tone and bring a sense of wild urgency to passages. The programming is clever, too, in presenting different versions of the same verse.
Highlights include Heine’s Die Lorelei, which has persuasive insistence contrasted with melancholy, and the duo also manage to provide variance between mercurial and extrovert aspects in the French Victor Hugo settings with the more controlled expressionism of the German texts, all of which are included in the booklet together with English translations. Overall the impression left is a strong one – these songs really should be heard more often.