On her new recording I Will Walk With Love, Irish mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy demonstrates a natural talent for singing German lieder, having honed her linguistic skills at the Frankfurt Opera house. She also sensibly combines Brahms, Mahler and Grieg songs with some Debussy. Les chansons de Bilitis adds a welcome French frisson to the Germanic folk songs.
Brahms was a great fan of folk text and was one of the first great German composers to devote significant work to the genre. I particularly liked Da unten im Tale /Down there in the valley, a classic German folk song with romantic tension in the libretto which makes the beautiful melody, more beguiling: ‘You always speak of love/you always speak of fidelity, and a little falsehood is also likely there. Meanwhile in Es steht ein’Lind/There is a linden tree, the lover has been jilted and nature has stepped in to console him. In her bright soprano Murrihy manages to artfully express both sadness and gratitude.
Gustav Mahler was also drawn to folkloric themes. He found in the texts the sentiments he sought in life. In Ich ging mit Lust/I walked joyfully, a maiden awaits her lover at night and asks the nightingale to sing to him. What in essence is a gentle tale of birds and lovers, shifts gear into a drama of treachery. The narrator tells the sleepy maid to ‘watch out’. Beautifully sung by Murrihy with the right amount of rising tension.
Track 11, Mahler changes tack with Urlicht/Primal Light with a song of spiritual love. In the lower register, Murrihy sings an exquisite hymn to God and the light. It is a stunning miniature work and sung with aching feeling and truth. It is no surprise that Mahler incorporated this work into the fourth movement of his “Resurrection Symphony.”
With Debussy, the songs become more operatic.
I had never heard 3 Chansons de Bilitis by Debussy with libretto by Pierre Louÿs. And what a well-written libretto it is, replete with mythic satyrs and nymphs and wonderful imagery. Here I felt Murrihy’s voice was at its best especially in Le tombeau des Naïades: I trudged along the frost-bound wood; my hair across my mouth blossomed with little ice crystals. There is also something in Debussy’s composition which suits the mezzo voice which seems to thrive on dissonances in the lower register, minor keys. Murrihy brings all the excitement to this piece it requires, her voice rising up the scale and crescendoing and spilling into a marvellous high finale. At times she sounded like Bizet’s Carmen – no accident that she has played Carmen many times on international stages.
Edvard Grieg’s Dereinst, Gedanke mein/One day, o my thoughts and Zur Rosenzeit/In the time of roses are rich in musical texture and are simply gorgeous. Reading the sleeve notes I am told that Grieg wrote them for his wife, Nina Hagerup, the lyric soprano. He often said that his creative genius was ignited and was sustained by his love for her. However Rozenzeit, written by Goethe, is bleak in its conclusion: ‘You wither, sweet roses, my love could not sustain you:’
This is a wonderful selection of songs sung with great feeling, sensitivity and intelligence by Murrihy. I look forward to seeing her on stage one day singing Debussy.
I will walk with my love is out on Orchid Classics on the 2nd October 2020 : https://www.orchidclassics.com/releases/orc100143-paula-murrihy-tanya-blaich/