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Doubtless the fresh, but equally probing perspective of the artists on this occasion serves to illuminate previously unexplored aspects of these works. Indeed, that there is so much to find in it speaks volumes for its artistic value. David Blackburn's focused, expressively concentrated tenor, for example, yields wholly different results from that of the refined urbanity of the silver-throated John Aler in the first outing. Indeed, Mr Blackburn exploits the anxieties, wariness and even the sheer terror that underlies the texts to which the music is set, and to a large extent, the music itself. Witness his chilling account of Beschwörung [listen -- CD1 track 14, 3:21-4:19], set to an ominous text by Pushkin, and his pulsating navigation of the gentle Ständchen. While his instrument is somewhat rougher, and its timbre jarring, Mr Blackburn is a singer in the interpretive mould of Fischer-Dieskau and Schwarzkopf; indeed, he avails himself of minute affective inflections to intensify a syllable, color a word or deliver a single vowel in the service of meaningful conveyance.

Mr Hebel, though not a virtuoso given to the technical sophistication of his predecessor Nick Eanet, is an exceptionally perceptive musician, whose thoughtful articulation and unerring grasp of Nietzsche's migrating tonalities is matched note for note by his accompanist, Thomas Coote [listen -- CD2 track 1, 2:30-3:43]. Together they render Eine Sylvesternacht's wayward teleology at once intelligible and convincing.

Perhaps most remarkable is the playing of pianist Manolis Papasifakis, who brings to these wholly Teutonic compositions something of a French sensibility. In his accompaniments to Mr Blackburn, as well as readings of two solo works (Das Zerbrochene Ringlein [listen -- CD1 track 10, 0:00-1:02], which was originally composed as a melodrama with speaker, absent here; and Nietzsche's own transcription of his song Da Geht Ein Bach [listen -- CD1 track 1, 0:00-1:16]), Mr Papasifakis' elegant, deftly pedaled and often ethereal approach defies their implicit gravity, and it works. Likewise, Thomas Coote's savvy account of the melancholy Das Fragment an Sich is a most eloquent evocation of its quizzical character and immanent wanderlust, while his versatile flexibility as Mr Hebel's collaborator reveals an authoritative command of challenging material.

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Copyright © 2 November 2003 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA


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