Since my upcoming Wolf Trap concert features four singers and two pianists, it seemed crazy not to open the program with the cornerstone work for those forces: Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes. Normally I shun the obvious, so I briefly considered delving into the four-part writing of Szymanowski or Schoeck or Schreker. After about 40 seconds I came to my senses. Some pieces are evergreen, and the Liebeslieder are at the top of that last.
When Joseph Li and I worked on them last weekend, evergreen seemed too weak a description. “Good Humor truck” is more like it, a freezer-full of irresistible treats whose appeal is practically addictive. Each waltz is different in character, ranging from slow dances to dapper quick-steps to aggressive ones that have the razor-sharp drive of a mazurka. I knew they would be a good way for the Wolf Trap cast to bond with each other, and with Joe and me. Playing and singing this Brahms work is like having a sweet love affair. As you rehearse the Liebeslieder, you begin to feel that you are in a room with the people who matter the most to you, a beautiful musical intimacy.
Here’s my (current) favorite, “Ein kleiner, hübscher Vogel,” sung and played here by a sterling roster of musicians: Edith Mathis, Brigitte Fassbänder, Peter Schreier, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, with Karl Engel and Wolfgang Sawallisch at the piano. Deutsche Grammophon clearly spent some money on this project. They’re great…but I bet we can get this piece to sound even sweeter and more charming!