Heimat – that not-quite-translatable German term encompassing rootedness, longing and belonging – is the subject of the German-born, UK-based baritone Benjamin Appl's first major-label disc. It's weighted towards German song but also includes several from Appl's adopted home, as well as Grieg and Poulenc. His Schubert, Brahms and Wolf are impressive, thanks partly to James Baillieu's finely judged piano playing, even if Brahms's Lullaby sounds a touch overegged in Appl's beautifully produced diction. Nothing, though, is as poignant as a gorgeous, wistful little popular song by Adolf Strauss, written in Terezín days before he was sent to Auschwitz and his death. One occasionally wants more depth of colour in Appl's voice, but the climax of Richard Strauss' Allerseelen shows strength in reserve. Appl was mentored by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and while it's a bit early to be naming him as successor to that great singer, as some are doing, this disc shows great potential.
Source: Erica Jeal (theguardian.com)
“Arriving well after midnight on 19th September 2010 in London with just three suitcases, I felt not only a sense of freedom but also a sense of uncertainty. I was coming to further my studies, which meant shifting the centre of my life to England. I had never seen the city before and had to find my way around that same night and locate my new home. I can still remember my thoughts and feelings very clearly: was it the right decision to abandon all that was familiar to me? Would I be happy there? What sort of people would I meet? It was a step that involved lots of challenges but which also brought with it some great opportunities to discover new things, to overcome my fear of the new and to open myself up to new experiences.
Another aspect to consider: in 2014 I lost two of my grandparents who had been an integral part of my life since my birth and to whom I had been extremely close. For me, they formed a part of my Heimat. To sing Schubert's Nachtstück and Strauss' Allerseelen immediately after their death was incredibly hard from an emotional point of view, but also something I shall never forget. In performing these songs and in experiencing their words and music at first hand, I realised that there is a further reason why it is so infinitely painful: with the death of a loved one, you lose a big part of your own inner sense of security, to say nothing of your identity and ultimately of the Heimat that you carry around within you.
Heimat: is it a concept? A feeling? Or something more than this? On the strength of various experiences, each of us knows the sense of feeling safe, a sensation we owe to a place, a situation or to certain individuals. Sometimes, however, we also feel hemmed in or we experience prejudice or pain. For centuries poets and composers have explored this theme. It is more relevant and urgent now more than ever, now that many people are losing their homeland or else they are having to give it up. Heimat is something that really moves people.
The present songs are all part of my journey through life: texts that comfort us, texts that bring joy, texts that awaken memories, but also songs that tell of new departures and discoveries and which not only accompany us on our journey but prepare the way for moments of familiarity and security. Others reflect moments when a part of our homeland was lost.
It is my wish for this music to take you on this journey, with its various aspects of Heimat, of seeking, of questions about identity, of homesickness and longing, of prejudices and the fear of change, but also of proximity and the sense of feeling safe.”
PROLOG / PROLOGUE
1. Franz Schubert / Ludwig Hölty: Seligkeit, D.433
WURZELN / ROOTS
2. Max Reger / Ludwig Rafael: Des Kindes Gebet, Op.76/22
3. Hugo Wolf / Eduard Mörike: Er ist's
4. Johannes Brahms: Wiegenlied, Op.49/4
RÄUME / LOCATIONS
5. Franz Schubert / Karl Lappe: Der Einsame, D.800
6. Johannes Brahms / Joseph von Eichendorff: Mondnacht, WoO 21
7. Franz Schreker / Jens Peter Jacobsen, Robert Franz Arnold: Waldeinsamkeit
MENSCHEN / PEOPLE
8. Johannes Brahms / Volkslied: Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund
9. Hugo Wolf / Joseph von Eichendorff: Verschwiegene Liebe
10. Richard Strauss / Hermann von Gilm zu Rosenegg: Allerseelen, Op.10/8
11. Franz Schubert / Johann Mayrhofer: Nachtstück, D.672
UNTERWEGS / ON THE ROAD
12. Franz Schubert / Carl Gottfried Ritter von Leitner: Drang in die Ferne, D.770
13. Franz Schubert /Johann Gabriel Seidl: Der Wanderer an den Mond, D.870
14. Adolf Strauss / Ludwig Hift: Ich weiß bestimmt, ich werd' dich wiedersehen
SEHNSUCHT / YEARNING
15. Franz Schubert / Theodor Hell: Das Heimweh, D.456
16. Franz Schubert / Georg Philipp Schmidt von Lübeck: Der Wanderer, D.489
GRENZENLOS / WITHOUT FRONTIERS
17. Francis Poulenc / Guillaume Apollinaire: Hyde Park, FP127/2
18. Benjamin Britten / Traditional: Greensleeves
19. Ralph Vaughan Williams / Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Silent Noon (from "The House of Life")
20. Sir Henry Bishop / John Howard Payne: Home, sweet home
21. Peter Warlock / Hilaire Belloc: My own country
22. Peter Warlock / Anonymous: The Bachelor
23. John Ireland / Thomas Lovell Beddoes: If there were dreams to sell
EPILOG / EPILOGUE
24. Edvard Grieg / John Paulsen: An das Vaterland, Op.58/2
25. Edvard Grieg / Friedrich Martin von Bodenstedt: Ein Traum, Op.48/6
Benjamin Appl, baritone
James Baillieu, piano
Recording: October 28-31, 2016 & January 20, 2017, Studio 1, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Germany
Sony Classical 2017
Photos by Lars Borges
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Franz Schubert: Der Wanderer an den Mond, D.870
Adolf Strauss: Ich weiß bestimmt, ich werd' dich wiedersehen
Edvard Grieg: An das Vaterland, Op.58/2
Anyone who enjoyed Benjamin Appl's previous disc, a Schubert recital (Wigmore Hall Live, 7/2016), will recognise the same qualities on this new album, the first fruit of a newly forged relationship with Sony Classical. The voice has a burnished, oaky beauty as well as considerable sweetness (well captured in Sony's natural engineering), while the interpretations are suffused with a gentle intelligence, an instinct for unforced but direct communication and what feels like a real love for the repertoire. The latter characteristic is even more in evidence in this project, one which has a disarming personal element: a carefully assembled programme that explores not just the abstract concept of "Heimat" but also the young baritone's relationship with his two homelands, original and adopted.
It's a delightful selection, split up further into evocative subheadings, which mixes songs familiar and less well known, the expected with the unexpected. Schubert, Wolf and Brahms dominate the larger, German part of the programme, beautifully performed. But we also have the disarming, twinkling simplicity of Reger's "Des Kindes Gebet", as well as Adolf Strauss' suave "Ich weiss bestimmt", presented with a gentle pathos and sophistication that quietly underlines the tragedy of its having been composed in Terezín – here, as throughout, the piano-playing of James Baillieu is superb.
Appl's move to the UK is announced in a confused whirl with Poulenc's Hyde Park and then a half a dozen songs in English, with a slightly more folksy tone. You'll have to go a long way to hear more enchanting accounts of Britten's "Greensleeves", Ireland's "If there were dreams to sell" or Bishop's "Home, sweet home". Appl's English, unsurprisingly, cannot be faulted. The two Grieg songs that make up the epilogue are outstanding, too. But the final moments of an otherwise near-ideal account of "Ein Traum" highlight one reservation. The voice is very beautiful across a broad range but it remains a great deal happier up to forte than above it, where it loses flexibility and can develop a slightly fuzzy, even woofy quality.
It's an issue that will hopefully be ironed out as Appl develops. As it is, though, there is more than enough quality in his singing, and pleasure to be had from his musicianship and interpretative instincts, for this charming and often moving disc to be confidently recommended.
Source: Hugo Shirley (gramophone.co.uk)
Described as "the current front-runner in the new generation of Lieder singers" (Gramophone Magazine, UK), Benjamin Appl (b. 1982) is celebrated by audiences and critics in recital, concerts and opera. The German baritone was a BBC New Generation Artist and an ECHO Rising Star artist for the 2015/2016 season, appearing in recital at major European venues. He became an exclusive Sony Classical recording artist in May 2016 and won the Gramophone Young Artist of the Year Award in 2016.His first solo album for Sony Classical, "Heimat", was released in March 2017 and contains German and English songs.
He trained as a chorister at the renowned Regensburger Domspatzen and continued his studies at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München. He is a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where he studied with Edith Wiens and Rudolf Piernay. He had the fortune to be mentored by one of the greatest Lieder sings, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
Operatic appearances include Conte Le Nozze di Figaro in London, Owen Wingrave (title role) at the Banff Festival, Aeneas Dido and Aeneas at the Aldeburgh and Brighton Festivals, Schaunard La Bohème with the Munich Radio Orchestra, Baron Tusenbach in Eötvös's Tri Sestri for the Deutsche Staatsoper and a new commission for Bregenz Festival (Das Leben am Rande der Milchstraße by Bernhard Gander). Conductors he has worked with include Marin Alsop, Christian Curnyn, Johannes Debus, Edward Gardner, Michael Hofstetter, Bernard Labadie, Paul McCreesh, Roger Norrington, Christoph Poppen, Helmuth Rilling and Ulf Schirmer.
In concert he has appeared with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Gabrieli Players & Consort, Les Violon du Roy, the Bach Collegium Stuttgart, and on multiple occasions with the major BBC orchestras. He made his BBC Proms debut in September 2015 singing Brahms's Triumphlied with Marion Alsop and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and Orff's Carmina Burana with the BBC Concert. His oratorio repertoire includes Bach's Magnificat, St John and St Matthew Passions, Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem, Händel's The Messiah, Haydn's The Creation and Britten's War Requiem.
An established recitalist, he has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Ravinia, Rheingau and Oxford Lieder festivals, deSingel Antwerp, Heidelberger Frühling, and with Graham Johnson at the KlavierFestival Ruhr. He is a regular recitalist at the Wigmore Hall and at the Schubertiade Hohenems and Schwarzenberg. He works closely together with pianists including Graham Johnson, Malcolm Martineau, Helmut Deutsch, James Baillieu and Martin Stadtfeld.
His discography includes Mendelssohn and Schumann duets with Ann Murray (DBE), accompanied by Malcolm Martineau; his debut solo disc "Stunden, Tage, Ewigkeiten" accompanied by James Baillieu, which was released in April 2016 on Champs Hill records; and a live recording of Schubert lieder with Graham Johnson for Wigmore Hall Live label.
Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata BWV 211 ("Coffee Cantata") – Rahel Maas, Andreas Weller, Benjamin Appl, Stiftsbarock Stuttgart, Kay Johannsen (HD 1080p)
Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2016 – Part III. Special Awards 2016 | Young Artist of the Year: Benjamin Appl