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Schumann, his Poets and Contemporaries; Heinrich Heine. Lucy Crowe (soprano) Allan Clayton (tenor) Robert Murray (tenor) Ronan Collett (baritone) Michael Nagy (baritone) Gabriel Woolf (narrator) Graham Johnson (piano) Wigmore Hall, 17.06.2006. (M E)

Banished from the Fatherland
With pen and lieder in my hand.
The lieder Schumann makes so touching
is in this manuscript I’m clutching

Tony Harrison should presumably have written The Lied that Schumann makes so touching, since the poem refers to the statue of Heine in which he is depicted holding Schumann’s setting of ‘Was will die einsame Träne,’ but the crucial point is that it is the music of Schumann and of course Schubert which defines these poems, in themselves slight examples of German lyric verse. This characteristically enlightening recital told us perhaps a little more than we really wanted to know about the poet; indeed the realization of the fact that he never acknowledged Dichterliebe because its writer was unknown, preferring the socially acceptable Meyerbeer, and later complained that no composer had ever sent him any free copies of their settings, was a bit like discovering how beastly Milton was to his daughters. No matter: Heine’s poems inspired some of the greatest Lieder, and the highlight of this evening was a performance of the cycle usually regarded as everyone’s favourite, Dichterliebe.

Robert Murray is a young singer whose career I have followed with great interest after his hilariously acted and sweetly sung MSND Flute at the RCM, and a superb Albert Herring in his final year: his Wigmore debut last season was a further auspicious step in his career, and with this Dichterliebe he has now firmly established himself as one of the finest of the younger generation of Lieder singers, able to stand comparison with anyone in Europe or America. Murray’s teacher is Ryland Davies, and his inspiration is Peter Schreier: no singer could choose better, and these names give an indication of his style of vocal production and recital presentation – unforced, natural, heartfelt yet not overblown, subtle in gesture and in every way conveying a great deal through nuance rather than exaggeration. No embarrassing swaggering here, either vocal or histrionic.

Of course, this will disappoint those who like their Schumann sung with wild-eyed despair and masses of fake bonhomie at the right moments, but I prefer Murray’s delicacy of tone, his elegant management of mood and his sincerity. Lines such as ‘Die Liebe aufgegangen’ in the first song and ‘Du trauriger, blasser Mann’ in the twelfth, were sung with just the right edge of despair and without any coyness whatsoever, and the difficult final line if ‘Allnächtlich im Traume’ was taken with complete naturalness rather than the jokey vocal shrug it often receives. As his voice is a light lyric tenor, one might have assumed that he would lack the heft for songs like ‘Ich grolle nicht,’ but in fact he gave a searing performance of it, ending with a truly biting ‘wie sehr du elend bist.’ There were a few glitches here and there, but otherwise this was a Dichterliebe to treasure: other highlights were the crucial heimlich in ‘Allnächtlich im Traume,’ given just enough slight pressure to indicate its special meaning, and a beautiful example of impassioned expression within a fine legato line at ‘Ach, könnt ich dorthin kommen, / Und dort mein herz erfreu’n.’ Graham Johnson was in complete sympathy with the singing.

Alongside this, the rest of the recital was pleasant rather than remarkable: Lucy Crowe continues to sound rather shrill to my ears, although her ‘Atchevo?’ had some lovely phrasing; Ronan Collett’s ‘Der Doppelgänger’ was not well chosen for him, and Gabriel Woolf’s readings, though engaging enough, might perhaps have been best given to Johnson, who reads with the same kind of poetic devotion with which he plays.

Melanie Eskenazi


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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)