The present disc includes only the fourteen songs published during Alma’s lifetime. It’s a pity the two posthumous songs were omitted; there is space left. We don’t know much about the chronology of the songs, since few of them are dated or mentioned in her writings. However the Vier Lieder published in 1915 are more modern, harmonically, than the other two groups. Generally all the songs are well crafted and appealing though rather anonymous. Her ability to marry text with music is anyway conspicuous and it is valuable to have the songs collected in good readings. Catharina Kroeger has an agreeable, rather bright soprano and she sings sensitively and with fine nuances.
The “filler”, Patrizia Montanaro’s Canto di Penelope, has, as far as I understand, no connection with Alma Mahler – unless we regard both as strong-willed women. But while Penelope has been known for her fidelity to Odysseus, in spite of having many suitors, Alma Mahler seems to have been fairly promiscuous. Canto di Penelope was composed in 2003 for Catharina Kroeger, and it is subtitled Melologue for soprano-actress and piano. It is a fascinating work that takes some time to come to terms with. The vocal part ranges from spoken lines via Sprechgesang to pure singing. It is intense, dramatic and in long stretches also beautiful, although there are no melodies in the conventional sense. The piano part is very expressive. The texts are available at www.brilliantclassics.com but I would have preferred to have the translations side by side, not on separate pages.
Though not a genius – as her husband certainly was – it is still good to have Alma Mahler’s songs available at an affordable price – and in the bargain one gets the fascinating challenge of Canto di Penelope.