Graham Johnson’s latest Lieder project for Hyperion reaches its fourth volume. Brahms is of course a giant of the Romantic era but his songs and vocal works are rather less well known than much of his other music. There is so much to discover and enjoy in the beautiful, often elegiac melodies and characteristic piano writing.
In some of these recitals an opus number will be presented in its entirety: here it is the songs of Op 94, as well as the Vier ernste Gesänge of Op 121. The singer is the bass-baritone Robert Holl, acclaimed as simply one of the most profound artists of the genre and recently praised for the ‘unparalleled depth and complexity’ of his live performance (The Independent).
“Holl's voice, reminiscent of Fischer-Dieskau's but rather more of a real bass...is rich, true and resonant. He uses it simply, without self-conscious artifice, and the result is some very beautiful singing. Johnson's accompeniment is always skilled and perceptive...This disc, while the whole recital has notable integrity and quality, would be worth having for [the Four Serious Songs] alone.” International Record Review, September 2012
“[Holl is] dark-toned, at times to the point of grittiness, and you might find your admiration for the emotional truth of his singing offset by moments of unwieldiness and an occasional pulse in his tone. It works best if you listen selectively...The effect is awesome, but makes for difficult listening.” The Guardian, 13th September 2012 ***
“Holl's true bass register resonates eloquently with this programme of very serious songs...Holl has the ability to draw the listener in...For the Four Serious Songs themselves, Holl brings a deep sense of empathetic humanity to the live, deeply felt and thoughtfully reasoned inner monologues which he makes of them.” BBC Music Magazine, November 2012 ****
“Holl fields a bass-baritone of slightly grizzled nobility, with impressive sonorous depth...he catches all the terrible nihilism and life-weariness of the first two songs and the opening of the third...Johnson's fastidiously textured playing, like his detailed commentaries, is always illuminating...But be prepared for a protracted Brahmsian gloomfest.” Gramophone Magazine, November 2012
“Holl, here approaching his mid-sixties, is still a flexible and nuanced singer with the ability to lighten the tone when appropriate. In spite of a long operatic career with often heavy roles - he has been a regular at Bayreuth since 1996 - the voice is largely unscathed and the tone noble...[Johnson] is the ever-flexible partner in what is a duo of equal merits.” MusicWeb International, January 2013