Becoming Darkness: A Bass Lied Recital

Review by: Jens F. Laurson

GROISSBOECK_HERZ-TOD_Gerold-Huber_DECCA_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

Famous Lieder cycles—two of which we usually know with mezzos and altos—are here interpreted by Günter Groissböck, a still fairly young bass who has made a name for himself with his physical stage presence and civilized, dark, virile-but-warm voice. On the stages of the Salzburg and Bayreuth festivals he has shown himself the ideal Ochs (Rosenkavalier) and a most menacing Marke (Tristan und Isolde). An ambitious previous release coupled a fine Schubert Winterreise with Schwanengesang. For his follow-up, he has assembled Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, and Hugo Wolf for a heavy dose of German romanticism.

Brahms’ Vier ernste Gesänge, which open the disc, are mighty serious indeed. Appropriate, perhaps, lightly lumbering, and just shy of attaining lift-off. But already Wagner’s Wesendonck songs are radiant and sincere, and Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder absolutely soar, even in this low tessitura. The Michelangelo songs—Wolf at his most Wagnerian without losing the slightly esoteric touch—are given an artless, very finely articulated treatment. Here, as elsewhere, beauty of tone and enunciation are more overt than textual interpretation. But then Groissböck is not Christian Gerhaher by intent or vocal type.

As is the nature of the best takes on works outside a singer’s Fach, the question of voice-appropriateness vanishes; the ears don’t listen along with a questioning “but…?” anymore. Particularly neat is that Groissböck’s timbre makes his voice seem lower than it is, giving it darkness but without that graven rigidity of a basso profundo. With the simply finest, most sensitive Lieder-pianist—Gerold Huber—as his equal partner, the two shine darkly, indeed. The title, an ambivalent pun in German on “Heart—Death” / “Cardiac arrest”, is daft (all due respect to Groissböck’s elaborate explanation in the liner notes), but who gives two flying semiquavers when the singing is as good?!



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Recording Details:

Album Title: Herz|Tod
Reference Recording: Wesendonck Lieder: Ludwig (EMI/Warner); Norman (Philips/Decca), Vier ernste Gesänge: Goerne/Eschenbach (Harmonia Mundi); Quasthoff/Zeyen (DG), Rückert Lieder: Henschel/Nagano (Teldec)

BRAHMS: Vier ernste Gesänge Op.121
MAHLER: Rückert-Lieder
WAGNER: Wesendonck-Lieder
WOLF: Three Songs on poems by Michelangelo Buonarroti

  • Günter Groissböck (bass); Gerold Huber (piano)

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