A conversation about this CD with Helena and Naomi:
Helena: Recording Lieder on CD is an alomost impossible project, isn’t it? After all, performing songs is based on the close proximity of the audience to the musicians, and sharing the moment together.
Naomi: Fortunately, we do use the experience as a base. We have already shared this repertoire with audience, and we convey the memory of those concerts in the recording. And hopefully with it, the spontananeity of our interpretations.
Helena: Although I have already premiered one song (‘Hinter Bäumen berg ich mich’) with another pianist, Thomas Jennefelt’s songs are quite new to us. We were only able to present Sieben Liebeslieder to an audience once.
Naomi: On the other hand, we had the chance to delve into this cycle last summer when we traveled to Sweden and worked with Thomas for a few days. It’s a great advantage to be able to work with a living composer and to refine our interpretation.
Helena: …and to approach these pieces in chamber music form, although Les nuits d’été and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen have received most of their recognition from the orchestral versions.
Naomi: Yes, true, but the piano versions came first! Apparently Berlioz had never even heard the orchestral version in its’ entirely.
Helena: He composed mainly for large orchestra and opera and was also the first composer to write a song cycle with orchestra. In fact, it took almost fifty years for someone else to compose in this form, and that was Mahler.
Naomi: To be honest, Berlioz’s piano part is not very pianistically written. You have to embellish it here and there but then yoy have something very special! Mahler, on the other hand, writes very logically for the fingers and you interpret the music according to his precise notations. There is also nothing superfluous in Jennefelt’s work, every note has meaning.
Helena: All three song cycles on this CD are about love, or rather, follow the course of a love relationship. With Berlioz you can see a development from early love to melancholy and death, only to become more hopeful about love in the last song. And Mahler, from a searching and restless youth, eventually comes to a resignation in Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. There is also a certain storyline in Jennefelst’s Sieben Liebeslieder.
Naomi: (laughs) Quite simply, the essence of the Lieder tradition! By the way, I have to tell you something that happened when I was studying the virtuosic piano part of ‘An den Gralprinsen’ from Sieben Liebeslieder. A little girl (I’m guessing about three years old) in a princess dress, rang the doorbell and asked, ‘May I play hide and seek here by your door, because you play so beautifully? I’ll knock on the window when I go again, okay?!’ As I continued to practice, the blond little princess laid down and listened to my playing for at least five minutes, all the while, resting her head in her hands!
Helena: What a wonderful audience!
Naomi: Let’s hope the we are able to give that intimate feeling with our recording!
Film recording, Casper Steketee
Thomas Jennefelt about his Sieben Liebeslieder:
‘I found Else Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945) when I was looking for Georg Trakl. Unfortunately, few translators in my native language, Swedish, have tried to interpret her poems. For our Finnish-Swedish giant Edith Södergran (1892-1923), however, she was the great inspirer, so the waves from her expressive poetry have in this way also reached up here to the north. But I’ve noticed that the surprisingly few people in my otherwise reasonably educated circle could relate to her. Therefore she became a revelation to me, unaware that her poems had already been set to music more than two thousand times by international colleagues.
There are many reasons why composers are drawn to set music to Else Lasker-Schüler’s lyrics. Her personal and mysterious appearance as an early border crosser, who changes persona and shape based on her needs, and who constantly eludes us with double meanings and amazing images, is so inviting that it is difficult to resist an attempt to set the words into music. And she lived in the Berlin of that time, with all of its’ contradictions. She led a tragic life in the clutches of Nazism and anti-Semitism, escaped to Switzerland, and finally ended up in Jerusalem. I searched through her poems and found burning love stories that were like nothing I’d read before. Of course she was influenced by the trends of the time, but her tone is so unique. Through her words, she portrays a strong sense of self-esteem, anger and at the same time sadness. A woman’s right to choose for herself, contradicted by the horror of being abandoned.
In the early 1990s I made an attempt to set music to another dramatic love story: the poems of Heinrich Heine that Robert Schumann used in his song cycle Dichterliebe. I wanted to take the despair and darkness of Heine’s poems and bring them to a place other than the idyllic and bittersweet feeling that characterizes many interpretations of Schumann’s songs. I composed the first ten poems from Schumann’s song cycle into a rather furious work for mixed choir and soloists. In many ways, thirty years later, I have returned to that feeling in Sieben Liebeslieder, but now with a different perspective and maybe more distance. My goal is to tell a story and create a musical and dramatic work for our inner imagination.
A song cycle gives me an inherent and special possibility to shape time. We follow a process that begins with a strong sense of self-awareness, feeling joy at being free to make choices. This process continues through an almost hallucinatory state of happiness into a clear declaration of love but ends in dark uncertainty in the song ‘Ich liebe dich’. Protected by trees, she hides her tears of sorrow and almost menacingly declares her unwavering presence. In the last song she is alone, in her golden shoes.’
Review in Opus, nr 117, 2023 by Axel Lindhe:
‘The German-Jewish writer Else Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945) is considered one of the foremost figures in German expressionism. Her poems were set to music by the Swedish composer Thomas Jennefelt. The Swedish-Dutch mezzo-soprano Helena van Heel’s expressive voice and Naomi Tamura’s supple piano playing celebrate triumphs in these sonorous compositions. The more you listen, the clearer van Heel’s qualities become, not least the unartificial and natural clarity – a characteristic that makes Jennefelt’s 7 Liebeslieder along with Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen sound in a way that makes you want to listen again, again and again.’ Axel Lindhe, Opus, nr 117, 2023
Review in Liedvriend, Octobre 2022, by Henriette Posthuma de Boer:‘
‘For Berlioz’ cycle Les nuits d’été […] is Helena, with her warm, velvet mezzo, an ideal interpreter. Surprising are the Sieben Liebeslieder by her compatriot Thomas Jennefelt, with lyrics by Else Lasker-Schüler. Captivating, visual music, which requires the necessary virtuosity from both the singer and the excellent pianist Naomi Tamura. Mahler’s somgs also seem to fit Helena perfectly. Recommended!’
Photos: Melle Meivogel