"It has been a privilege indeed to discover Anna Cramer’s work, released here by Aliud for the first time. If you enjoy late romantic lieder, then there are some fine examples on this disc."
Cramer: Songs - Mees, Voogd, Pas -
The path of musical history is of course marked by familiar and stellar names, but it is easy to forget those uncountable musicians, who, although highly talented, were not allowed into the Canon because of vagaries of fashion or personal circumstance. Anna Cramer (1873-1968) was one such.
She trained at the Amsterdam Conservatory, and on graduation moved to Germany to study composition with Wilhelm Berger and Max von Schillings. Gaining some early success between 1906 and 1907, some of her songs were performed in The Netherlands and Germany, and between 1907 and 1910 groups of songs comprising Op. 1-4 were published in Germany. Until 1925 Cramer lived in Munich and Berlin, but then she moved to Vienna, crucible of modernistic developments in music which had a great influence on her. She worked with Walter Simlinger, a poet, folk-singer and composer, who wrote the libretti for her two operas, Der letzte Tanz and Dr. Pipalumbo (1926-1927). In Vienna she came under the influence of Wolf, Berg and Mahler, and although her music was based in the German Late Romantic style, she developed her own voice by adding touches of cabaret, folk-music and some of the adventurous harmonic progressions characteristic of the period.
By 1930, however, recurrent money and health problems caused by her struggle to gain acceptance brought on mental illness, and she was committed to a mental institution. Released in 1930, she returned to her home in The Netherlands, becoming a recluse, although she carried on composing and even revised some of her earlier songs. In 1958 she took a suitcase full of manuscripts and deposited them at a bank in Amsterdam. Continuing mental health issues caused her to be forcibly institutionalised again in 1960. Living in a nursing home, she died in 1968 at the age of 94. Her bundle of manuscripts entered the care of the Hague Gemeentemuseum, and thence passed to the Netherlands Music Institute in The Hague.
In 1995, the Globe label issued an RBCD with a selection of Cramer's songs, sung by Rachel Ann Morgan with pianist Marjès Benoist. However, the present project by Aliud mostly includes songs which are world premières, and this new disc offers a generous 76'20" of Anna's music. I prefer soprano Nathalie Mees' fresher, lighter voice to Rachel Morgan's slightly matronly tones, and Aliud also feature a new orchestration of the Six Songs, Op. 4 by Jeppe Moulijn, played with total commitment by the Leiderdorps Chamber Orchestra (based in Leiden) under the baton of their director, Stephan Pas. Scholars have remarked that Anna Cramer's piano accompaniments seem to suggest she had an orchestra in mind, and Moulijn has followed the example of several composer/conductors who orchestrated songs by Richard Strauss.
Anna Cramer had a very strong melodic gift, a pre-requisite of Romantic composers; beautiful cantilenas but never saccharine and capable of a wide emotional range. These melodies were enhanced by her choice of poets; she seems to have been fond of the Expressionists, of whom Otto Julius Bierbaum was one (a poet also favoured by Richard Strauss). Like Mahler, she was also attracted by German folk poetry. It is fun to listen to her music and note the allusions; Wagner in the first of the Six Songs Op.4, where she repeatedly uses a phrase (on the flutes in the orchestrated version) uncannily like the famous Tristan und Isolde motif, Mahler for a circling motto in the piano part of Ave Rosa (Op.4 no.2), uncannily like one from the Abschied of his Lied von der Erde (not published until two years after she wrote the song) and Debussy, present in the harmonies and textures of several of the Zehn Gedichte (1910). This is not mere imitation, but reflects the common pool of resources available to all the composers at that time, especially folk material.
After the heady and beautifully rendered orchestrations of Op.4, Nathalie Mees continues with songs with piano accompaniment. Anna Cramer followed both Schumann and Schubert in the belief that the piano part should be at least equal partners in Lieder. Her piano parts can be very tricky but they are always eloquent, mirroring the poetry as well as supporting the vocal line. She writes some lovely preludes and postludes for the piano, the postlude of 'Souvenir de Malmaison' from the Zehn Gedichte being an exquisite example. Pianist Wim Voogd's pianism is superbly matched to Mees' flowing lines, and every nuance is captured by Aliud's pure DSD recording, which has admirably judged balance and ambience.
It has been a privilege indeed to discover Anna Cramer's work for the first time, especially when interpreted with such artistry and evident relish by her contemporary Netherlanders as recorded on this disc. My only real criticism is that there are no translations of the German texts, despite having the notes in three languages including English. My rudimentary German allowed me to get the broad gist of the poetry, and some of Google's often chaotic translations also helped. Nevertheless, if you enjoy Late Romantic lieder, there are some first-class examples here. It is a pleasure to know that Anna Cramer lives on in her music. Despite mental illness, her writing is mostly very positive and generous, although she is not afraid to portray the darker sides of life as dictated by her poets. She also had a wicked sense of humour, judging from her mischievous satirical side displayed on Track 20, 'Auf einer grünnen Wiese'.
Well done to the Aliud team for such a convincing and worthwhile musical exhumation of Anna Cramer.
Copyright © 2011 John Miller and HRAudio.net