This is a hugely important addition to the Maureen Forrester (1930-2010) discography; more than three hours of music recorded for broadcast by RIAS (Radio in the American Sector), Berlin between 1955 and 1963, and being released on CD for the first time. Forrester was in her mid-twenties to early thirties in this period and was enjoying huge success both in North America and in Europe. She made her debut in Europe with a Paris recital in 1955 and the following year made her New York debut. She auditioned for Bruno Walter, one of the world’s most celebrated conductors and a former Mahler protégée, and he immediately engaged her performances of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony with the New York Philharmonic in February 1957. The following year she appeared again with the New York Philharmonic in performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Karajan conducting. Astonishing success for such a young singer.
Although Forrester’s regular accompanist in this period was Montreal-based John Newmark, and it was with Newmark that she made her European debut, these German radio recordings were done with “local” pianists. Among them was the legendary Michael Raucheisen (1889-1984). Raucheisen had worked with all the great pre-war German singers, among them Lieder, Berger, Slezak, and Ivogün, and was recognized as an authority on the German lied. Forrester took the opportunity to study with Raucheisen during her time in Berlin and in 1955 recorded with him music by Loewe, Wagner, Schubert, and Schumann. While the performances are often beautiful — Schumann’s Das verlassene Mägdlein Op. 64/2 has a lovely plaintive quality — there are times when Forrester seems a little tentative and particularly in the Schubert songs her powerful voice seems to overwhelm the delicacy of the material.
Much more successful is the recording of Mahler’s Rückert Lieder with pianist Hertha Klust from 1960. Forrester, the greatest Mahler contralto of her generation, was born to sing this music. She makes “Um Mitternacht” unforgettable with perfectly controlled phrasing and a glowing sound. By this time she had studied Mahler’s music with Bruno Walter and made a recording for DG of the orchestral version of these very songs with Ferenc Fricsay conducting.
Forrester’s voice was also ideal for a great deal of music from the Baroque period. For many years she toured with the Bach Aria Group in the U.S. and made a number of Bach and Handel recordings in Europe for Westminster. In this new set from Berlin, she is heard in some short pieces by C.P.E. Bach and Johann Wolfgang Franck. Her rich lower register is just ideal in the long slow-moving lines of Bach’s “Jesus in Gethsemane”.
During the course of her long career, Forrester performed a great deal of contemporary music, especially by Canadian composers. In this set, she gives superb performances of song cycles by Barber and Poulenc and a sublime rendering of Britten’s A Charm of Lullabies with pianist Felix Schröder. In 1991, very late in her career, Forrester sang in the premiere of an orchestral version of this cycle at Carnegie Hall.
I have fond memories of working with Maureen Forrester in performances of works by Mahler and R. Murray Schafer with the CJRT Radio Orchestra, and I will never forget the warmth of her personality and her profound artistry. Forrester made many fine recordings over the years, but this new set is an important addition to our appreciation of her early years. And by the way, Heribert Henrich’s notes for this important Audite release are excellent.
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