Simon O’Neill’s Debut Album of Beethoven, Schumann, Richard Strauss and Wagner




Decca Classics (Australia) is delighted to announce a brand-new recording by internationally in demand Heldentenor Simon O’Neill – Distant Beloved – a collection of Lieder by German composers, paying tribute to his idol, the late Fritz Wunderlich.

The New Zealand Heldentenor – who is accompanied on this album by compatriot Terence Dennis – has selected Lieder by Beethoven, Schumann, Richard Strauss and Wagner – works which possess special meaning for the highly coveted international artist.

The title of this album is deeply evocative for me’, says O’Neill. ‘Though I may be performing on the opposite side of the world, my thoughts are never far from my beautiful wife and children, and our wonderful family home in New Zealand, overlooking the endless majesty of the Pacific Ocean.

For O’Neill, the opportunity to release an album on Decca Classics also brings with it an enormous sense of personal satisfaction, ever since he was tutored by one of the greatest recording artists of the twentieth century: ‘Whilst I studied singing at Juilliard in New York, I was very fortunate to work with Maestro Pavarotti. We worked on two arias – ‘Vedrommi intorno’ from Mozart’s Idomeneo and ‘Angelo casto e bel’ from Donizetti’s Il Duca d’albaI was first introduced to ‘Angelo casto e Bel’ on Pavarotti’s Donizetti Arias album from 1998 Una furtive lagrima – which was released by the Decca Record Company. I am so honoured to be part of Decca’s catalogue of music and musicians which include the greatest like Luciano Pavarotti.’

A native of New Zealand, Simon O’Neill has established himself as one of the finest Heldentenors on the international stage. He has frequently performed with the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Berlin, Hamburg and Bayerische Staatsopern, Teatro alla Scala and the Bayreuth, Salzburg, Edinburgh and BBC Proms Festivals, appearing with a number of illustrious conductors including Daniel Barenboim, Sir Simon Rattle, Riccardo Muti, Valery Gergiev, Sir Antonio Pappano, Pietari Inkinen, Pierre Boulez, Sir Mark Elder, Sir Colin Davis, Simone Young, Edo de Waart, Fabio Luisi, Donald Runnicles, Sir Simon Rattle, Thomas Hengelbrock, Jaap Van Zweden and Christian Thielemann.

Distant Beloved – Simon O’Neill (tenor) and Terence Dennis (piano)

Reviewed by Jim Pritchard

The inspiration behind this delightful new release is twofold: firstly – as one of this generations leading heroic tenors – Simon O’Neill’s career takes him away from his loved ones for longer than he would wish and, in his introduction, he writes how: ‘Such is the singer’s lot. The title of this album is deeply evocative for me. Though I may be performing on the opposite side of the world, my thoughts are never far from my beautiful wife and children, and our wonderful family home in New Zealand, overlooking the endless majesty of the Pacific Ocean.’ Also, O’Neill credits the legendary Fritz Wunderlich as ‘the greatest lieder tenor of all’ and this make this recording in some ways a tribute to his 1963 Philips album by pairing Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte with some of the same Richard Strauss songs. In Distant Beloved’s 66 minutes we hear 22 songs from Beethoven, Schumann, Richard Strauss and Wagner.

O’Neill’s approach is intensely text-focused, and he is alert to all the changing emotions of the poetry he is singing. An die ferne Geliebte – as Peter Quantrill’s informative booklet note explains – was composed when ‘Beethoven was profoundly deaf, and profoundly lonely, in a state which unmistakably conditions the cycle’s theme of a distant beloved’. They are six songs in which romantic yearning is evoked in the familiar poetic trope of nature and its hills and vales, meadows, mist, clouds, flights of birds, breezes that blow, brooks that babble. All of these are put to good use to reflect an anxious lover’s hope and fears. The earnest longing of the first two gives way to the increasing hopes of happiness in ‘Leichte Segler in den Höhen’ (‘Light clouds sailing on high’) before an impassioned ‘Nimm sie hin denn, diese Lieder’ (‘Take them, then, these songs’) becomes a heartfelt summation of all that has preceded it. Although O’Neill sings them all in a rather more declamatory style than some interpreters might utilise, everything is expressed with textual clarity and directness, as well as, impressive tonal variety.

This approach becomes the hallmark of all the rest we hear on this recording. Whether it is some recognisable Schumann or Richard Strauss songs or Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder which is increasingly becoming a favourite of tenors. Strauss’s ‘Zueignung’ (‘Dedication’) is his very familiar paean to love and gets a full-throated ‘Habe dank!’ that reminds listeners of O’Neill’s preeminent portrayals of Florestan, Otello, Lohengrin, Siegmund, Parsifal, amongst others, on the opera stage. It is in ‘Ruhe, meine Seele!’ (‘Rest, my soul!’) that Terence Dennis really comes to the fore for the first time with some schizophrenic piano accompaniment before Strauss’s quiet ending. There is more virtuosity from Dennis during ‘Cäcilie’ (‘Cecilia’) with its resounding ending as O’Neill scales the heights of ‘Du lebtest mit mir’ when there are hints, I think I hear, of Wagner’s ‘Allmächt’ger Vater’ from Rienzi. Elsewhere Dennis is the epitome of refined style and sensitivity.

O’Neill’s voice again shows delicate shading, controlled power and beauty, as well as intensity of expression and vocal acting, during the hauntingly beautiful Wesendonck Lieder that were composed by Wagner for his muse – and possibly mistress – Mathilde Wesendonck, using five of her poems. I hope O’Neill will forgive me if I write that they are – because of their implied eroticism – probably more suited to a female voice, but O’Neill does a creditable job of convincing me otherwise! He approaches each one as if it has its own story to tell: ‘Der Engel’ is perhaps just a touch too earthbound for my liking, but ‘Stehe still!’ (‘Be Still!’) has a suitably restless start before a more exclamatory end. The importance of Dennis at the piano is again emphasised with the rustling that underpins O’Neill’s plangent ‘Im Treibhaus’ (‘In the Hothouse’). ‘Schmerzen’ (‘Torment’) recalls O’Neill’s radiance as Siegmund; before Dennis’s refined prelude ushers in O’Neill’s eloquent rendition of ‘Traume’ (‘Dreams’) which – like ‘Schmerzen’ – contains musical material subsequently used by Wagner for Tristan und Isolde.

For more about Simon O’Neill click here.

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LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770–1827) – An die ferne Geliebte

1. ‘Auf dem Hügel sitz ich spähend’
2. ‘Wo die Berge so blau’
3. ‘Leichte Segler in den Höhen’
4. ‘Diese Wolken in den Höhen’
5. ‘Es kehret der Maien, es blühet die Au’
6. ‘Nimm sie hin denn, diese Lieder’

ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810–1856) – Myrthen, Op.25

7. ‘Widmung’
8. ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’


9. ‘Zueignung’, Op.10 No.1
10. ‘Die Nacht’, Op.10 No.3
11. ‘Allerseelen’, Op.10 No.8
12. ‘Breit’ über mein Haupt’, Op.19 No.2
13. ‘Ruhe, meine Seele!’, Op.27 No.1
14. ‘Cäcilie’, Op.27 No.2
15. ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’, Op.27 No.3
16. ‘Morgen!’, Op.27 No.4
17. ‘Ich trage meine Minne’, Op.32 No.1

RICHARD WAGNER (1813–1883) – Wesendonck Lieder

18. ‘Der Engel’
19. ‘Stehe still’
20. ‘Im Treibhaus’
21. ‘Schmerzen’
22. ‘Träume’

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