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Whether the early Strauss songs form ideal showpiece material for Cohen-Licht's voice is debatable. She has an attractive voice, silvery at its core but with a pronounced vibrato. I felt Cohen-Licht needed to give Strauss's songs more of a sense of line and less vibrato. She also does not make enough of the words, characterising each song with very generalised emotion. These songs were written for middle voice and I did wonder whether they lay a little awkwardly for her; in the 4th song, Aus den Liedern der Trauer she seemed to need to change gear rather awkwardly a number of times. This song is almost dramatically operatic and though Cohen-Licht gives full rein to the drama, her voice sounds a little uncontrolled. In the early songs she eschews the really concentrated style of earlier lieder without indulging in operatic gestures [listen -- track 4, 0:00-1:03]. She is a singer with musicality and sensitivity; witness the lovely ending to the 3rd song, Lob des Leidens [listen -- track 3, 1:46-2:20], but on repeated listening I kept returning to the twin issues of her strong vibrato and lack of feel for the words.

The same problems with pronounced vibrato re-occur in the second cycle on the disc, Schoenberg's Op 2 songs, written in 1899. This was the year that the young Schoenberg (he was 25) encountered Jens Peter Jacobson's Songs of Gurre on which he based Gurrelieder. The Op 2 songs include settings of three poems by Richard Dehmel, a composer who uses Christian imagery in his poetry. These are harmonically luxuriant gems and need a warm tone and good sense of line. Cohen-Licht gives us a strong engagement with the text and passionate commitment, but not always a sense of line [listen -- track 8, 0:00-1:04].

Large voices and voices with substantial vibrato can be difficult to record satisfactorily. Heard live, the venue's acoustics warm and modify the sound so that the live experience can differ wildly from the sound of a relatively closely recorded voice. After listening to the first two cycles on the disc, I began to wonder whether the recording engineers had captured Cohen-Licht's voice as well as they could.

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Copyright © 31 July 2005 Robert Hugill, London UK


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