On Record – Ulf Bästlein & Hedayet Jonas Djeddikar – Martin Plüddemann: Ballads, Songs and Legends (Naxos)

Martin Plüddemann
Liederzyklus. Jung Dietrich (both 1879). Vineta. Venetianisches Gondellied (both 1880). Graf Eberhards Weissdom. Einkehr. Siegfrieds Schwert (all 1881). Der Glockenguss zu Breslau (1882). Die Taufe. Dr Martin Luther. Ritter Kurts Brautfahrt. Arthur Schopenhauer (all 1883). Die Legende vom Hufeisen (1884/9). Altdeutsches Minnelied. Frau Mette. Don Massias. Russisches Lied. Des Sängers Fluch (all 1885). Gute Nacht (1887). Loewe’s Herz (1892). Niels Finn. Die Katzen und der Hauscherr. Der Sarg auf der Maasinsel. Die Meer-maid. Des Lebens Winter (all 1893). Sankt Peter mit der Geiss (1895). Drei Wanderer (1897).

Ulf Bästlein (baritone), Hedayet Jonas Djeddikar (piano)

Naxos 8.551460-61 [two discs, 2h34m15s] Producer/Engineer: Alexander Grün Dates: October 2nd-4th, 2020 and March 19th-22nd, 2021 at Studio TONAL, Pfaffendorf German texts and English translations can be found on the Naxos website, as can the additional notes

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Naxos once again puts inquiring listeners in its debt with a collection of Ballads, Songs and Legends from the short-lived though influential Martin Plüddemann, admirably realized and extensively documented by artists for whom this project has evidently been a labour of love.

What’s the music like?

Readers might recall the world premiere in late 1978 of an orchestral song Siegfrieds Schwert by Webern. In fact, its brash orchestration was all that the teenage composer had contributed to a ballad written 22 years earlier by Plüddemann – then so obscure that the connection was not made at this time. Born in Kolberg (now Kołobrzeg in Poland) in 1854, he had studied at Leipzig in the early 1870s then worked as a singing teacher, conductor and critic in, among other places, Munich and Graz before heading to Berlin where he died in 1897 aged just 43.

Although he championed the music of Wagner, Plüddemann was most influenced creatively by Carl Loewe – specifically his concept of the ballad which dominates those 50 or so pieces that he completed, and of which 33 are included in this collection. Examples can be found in such as Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, and while Plüddemann took this to a new level of formal and expressive density, the innately Teutonic nature of the genre consigned his music to oblivion once Austro-German culture had moved on near the start of the twentieth century.

The essence of Plüddemann’s thinking is amply conveyed by a collection as includes several of his songs, notably the winsomely understated Liederzyklus and mini-cycle after Heine that is Frau Mette – alongside the more substantial ballads in which the intertwined significances of story-telling and role-playing, coupled with the often graphically illustrative quality of the piano writing, results in music which is highly evocative or excessively mannered according to taste. Never in doubt, though, is the ability to draw each listener into its interiorized world.

Plüddemann’s most ambitious ballads are heard at the end of each disc – the Faustian pact as adumbrated by Wilhelm Müller when truth confronts beauty in Der Glockenguss zu Breslau, then the highly polemical relationship between art and the state in Ludwig Uhland’s familiar Der Sängers Fluch whose undeniably equivocal resolve says much for the aesthetic stance of the composer and many of his contemporaries. The shorter ballads evince a wide range of moods, not least Siegfrieds Schwert which sounds far more appealing in its original guise.

Does it all work?

Yes, provided listeners approach this music in the context of its intentions and limitations. As with Loewe, there is more than a hint of didacticism which might be thought off-putting, but it is to the credit of Ulf Bästlein and Hedayet Jonas Djeddikar that any such aspect has been integrated into the overall content of the piece at hand. Certainly, the former’s burnished yet never cloying baritone, allied to the latter’s dextrous while resourceful pianism, ensures that Plüddemann’s work benefits from a degree of advocacy it can seldom have received hitherto.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, not least as the sound has so realistic a balance between voice and piano, with essays by Bästlein, Michael Wilfert and Susan Youens that yield a wealth of information previously unavailable in English. Those drawn to the Austro-German musical byways need not hesitate.

For further information on this release, you can visit the Naxos website, and you can purchase by clicking on the link from Naxos Direct. Click on the names for more information on the composer Martin Plüddemann, and on the artists Ulf Bästlein and Hedayet Jonas Djeddikar