Composers: Beethoven, Schumann, Strauss, Wagner
Compositions: Songs and arias
Performers: Simon O’Neill t, Terence Dennis p
Catalogue Number: Decca 4817865

Fritz Wunderlich looms large for tenors who venture into lieder, and so it is for New Zealander Simon O’Neill. His debut release on the Decca label is a tribute of sorts to Wunderlich’s 1963 recording of An die ferne Geliebte and various Strauss songs, both of which appear here alongside Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and selections from Schumann’s Myrthen.

This decision inevitably invites comparison, but O’Neill makes a fine showing here, combining admirable vocal control with a compelling directness of communication. In An die ferne Geliebte, O’Neill and pianist Terence Dennis effectively capture the ever-shifting moods of each love poem, nimbly moving between stillness, anticipation and desire. In Wo die Berge so blau, the tenor establishes a dreamy thoughtfulness, while Nimm sie hin denn diese Lieder is both tender and lovelorn, one of the disc’s special moments.

In the Wesendonck Lieder, fast becoming a tenor staple, O’Neill presents a compelling Der Engel, sowing a sense of agitation which is fully realised in the urgency of Traüme. Stehe still! needs more tonal colour than the tenor can provide, and Schmerzen doesn’t sit in the most attractive part of his voice, but Im Treibhaus has the requisite weight and intensity.

Of the Strauss selections, O’Neill shines in sensitive, nuanced readings of Zueignung and Allerseelen, with his whispered entreaties for peace in Ruhe, meine Seele! affecting.