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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56)
The Complete Secular Choral Works, a cappella

BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92148 [4CDs: 52:22 + 61:36 + 56:52 + 61:36]

CD 1
Drei Gedichte von Emanuel Geibel op. 29

Zigeunerleben
Lied
Ländliches Lied
Vier Gesänge für gemischten Chor op. 59

Nord oder Süd
Am Bodensee
Jägerlied
Gute Nacht
Hirtenknabengesang
Sechs Lieder op. 33

Der träumende See
Die Minnesänger
Die Lotosblume
Der Zecher als Doktrinär
Rastlose Liebe
Frühlingsglocken
Fünf Lieder von Robert Burns op. 55

Das Hochlandmädchen
Zahnweh
Mich zieht es nach dem Dörfchen hin
Die alte gute Zeit
Hochlandbursch
Beim Abschied zu singen op. 84
CD 2
Die rote Hanne op. 31, No. 3
Der deutsche Rhein
Ritornelle op. 65

Zum Anfang
Die Rose stand im Tau
Lasst Lautenspiel u.Becherklang
Blüt'oder Schnee
Gebt mir zu trinken
Zürne nicht des Herbstes Wind
In Sommertagen rüste den Schlitten
Hätte zu einem Traubenkerne
In Meeres Mitten ist ein offner Laden
Drei Männerchöre aus dem Revolutionsjahr (1848)

Deutscher Freiheitsgesang
Zu den Waffen
Schwarz-Rot-Gold
Drei Gesänge für Männerchor, op. 62

Der Eidgenossen Nachtwache
Freiheitslied
Schlachtgesang
Jagdlieder, Fünf Gesänge op.137

Zur hohen Jagd
Habet Acht!
Jagdmorgen
Frühe
Bei der Flasche
CD 3
Romanzen und Balladen für Chor Heft I op. 67

Der König von Thule (Goethe)
Schön-Rohtraut (Mörike)
Heidenröslein (Goethe)
Ungewitter (Chamisso)
John Anderson (Burns)
Romanzen und Balladen für Chor Heft II op. 75

Schnitter Tod (altdt. Lied)
Im Walde (Eichendorff)
Der traurige Jäger (Eichendorff)
Der Rekrut (Burns)
Vom verwundeten Knaben (altdt.)
Romanzen und Balladen für Chorgesang Heft III op. 145

Der Schmidt (Uhland)
Die Nonne (unbek. Dichter)
Der Sänger (Uhland)
John Anderson (Burns, 2.Bearb.)
Romanze vom Gänsebuben (span.)
Romanzen und Balladen für Chorgesang Heft IV op. 146

Brautgesang (Uhland)
Bänkelsänger Willie (Burns)
Der Traum (Uhland)
Sommerlied (Rückert)
Das Schifflein (Uhland)
Der Handschuh (Schiller) 5'53
CD 4
Romanzen für Frauenstimmen Heft I op. 69

Tamburinschlägerin (Eichendorff)
Waldmädchen (Eichendorff)
Klosterfräulein (Kerner)
Soldatenbraut (Mörike)
Meerfey (Eichendorff)
Die Kapelle (Uhland)
Vier doppelchörige Gesänge op. 141 (1849)

An die Sterne (Rückert)
Ungewisses Licht (Zedlitz)
Zuversicht (Zedlitz)
Talismane (Goethe)
Romanzen für Frauenstimmen Heft II op. 91

Rosmarien (altdt.)
Jäger Wohlgemut (d.Kn.Wunderhorn)
Der Wassermann (Kerner)
Das verlassene Mägdlein (Mörike)
Der Bleicherin Nachtlied (Reinick)
In Meeres Mitten (Rückert)
Die Kapelle (Uhland) (1849)
Aus: Lieder für die Jugend op. 79 (1849)

Frühlingsgruß (Hoffmann v. Fallersleben)
Weihnachtslied (Andersen)
Lieder für drei Frauenstimmen op. 114

Nänie (Bechstein)
Triolett (L'Egru)
Spruch (Rückert)
Glockentürmers Töchterlein (Rückert)
Die Orange und Myrthe hier, Bei Schenkung eines Flügels (Schumann)
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-96)
CD 2
Drei gemischte Chöre (Emanuel Geibel)

Abendfeier in Venedig
Vorwärts
Gondoliera
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-97)
CD 4
Dem dunklen Schloß der heilgen Erde (Schiller).

Bearbeitung nach Schumanns ĎGesänge der Früheí op. 133/1
Studio Vocale Karlsruhe/Werner Pfaff
Renner Ensemble/Bernd Engelbrecht
Ira Maria Witoschynskyj (piano) CD2, 4-5 and CD4, 1-6, 11-15, 19-22, 24
Locky Chung (baritone) CD1, 1 and CD2, 4-5
Gesa Hoppe (soprano) CD1, 1-3
Gundula Schneider (mezzo-soprano) CD1, 1-3
Fumiko Hatayama (contralto) CD1, 2
Christian Lampert (horn) CD3
Daniel Lampert (flute) CD3
Recording:
Studio Vocale Karlsruhe/Werner Pfaff
Im Rosbaud-Studio, Sudwestfunk Baden - Baden
27.10.1996 to 01.11.1996 (CD1 and 2), 01.041997 to 05.04.1997 (CD3),
Suddeutschen Rundfunk, Studio Karlsruhe
18.03.2001 to 05.04 1997 (CD4)
Renner Ensemble, Regensburg/Bernd Engelbrecht
In der Kirchemusikschule Regensburg, 04.04.1997 to 06.04.1997

 

The ever enterprising Brilliant Classics label are to be heartily congratulated once again for releasing this excellent four CD collection of Schumannís choral works for unaccompanied choir (a cappella) or with minimal instrumental accompaniment.. This set contains Schumannís complete output in the genre, including some world premiere recordings. I should point out that these are all secular works. With the exception of the Requiem for Mignon Op. 98a, Mass Op. 147 and the Requiem Op. 148 Schumann wrote only a small amount of music for liturgical purposes.

In recent reviews of the complete a cappella works from Brahms and Mendelssohn on this series from Brilliant Classics I wrote that the greatest composers generally wrote the greatest music even if it is only rarely in the public domain. The greatness of these unaccompanied choral works serves to reinforce my viewpoint. However having listened to these a cappella works by Schumann they seem far too uneven in quality to be put on a par with those of Brahms and Mendelssohn even though Schumann is generally considered a composer who wrote several great works. It is no coincidence that all three composers founded and directed choral ensembles with which they were able to practise their Ďpurpose-builtí compositions first-hand.

Unaccompanied choral music, as illustrated by the small amount of concert performances and the frequency and number of deletions from the CD catalogue, remains unfashionable and has been so for many decades. Choral works from Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann et al were perennial favourites of provincial choral societies until the outbreak of the First World War when an intensely hostile reaction against things German prevailed. This is a terrible shame as many of these Schumann unaccompanied choral compositions are fine music. They are for the most part unknown by the average listener leaving several precious gems to be unearthed.

Robert Schumann is known for his revolutionary piano works, an abundant output of lieder, Romantic symphonies and concertos; particularly his famous piano concerto. The works recorded here show an alternative face of Schumann; intimate, ironic, even bourgeois are the characteristics which spring to mind. As far as I can the works are given in chronological order and are based on texts of Romantic poets: Emanuel Geibel, Robert Burns, Friedrich Schiller, Friedrich Rückert et al. They were recorded in collaboration with the Robert Schumann Gesellschaft. Several receive their world premiere recordings although unfortunately they are not identified.

Of all the Romantic composers of Schumannís time none carried the written word with such impact. From an early age Schumann immersed himself in Romantic literature and became probably the most poetic composer of the Romantic era. Schumannís Romanticism reveals itself in the way literature affected his thinking and innate creativity.

Schumann composed through the late 1840s which was a time of intense political struggle and terrible social unrest owing to the popular liberal revolution and uprisings that had spread through the German States when German people took to the streets to demand freedom and unity. The extreme tension and fear of this revolutionary contagion clearly affected Schumann significantly and for a time in 1848 he evacuated himself and his heavily pregnant wife Clara away from the brutality of the troubles to comparative safety.

The four discs contains nearly four hours of music and twenty sets of songs that span from 1840 to 1849. In his earlier works Schumann was clearly finding his feet as a composer for the chorus with the ninety songs varying considerably in quality and greatly improving as the developing Schumann matured as a composer.

It is not clear which tracks the Studio Vocale Karlsruhe under founder Werner Pfaff and Renner Ensemble under their founder Bernd Engelbrecht have recorded individually or singly. Therefore for the purpose of this review I shall mention Studio Vocale Karlsruhe and Werner Pfaff as the performers throughout.

There is a certain naivety and considerable exuberance in the Drei Gedichte von Emanuel Geibel op. 29 (CD1, tracks 1-3), an early score dating from 1840. Particularly engaging is the Zigeunerleben which quickly became a popular song for its colourful scoring (tambourine and triangle parts) and astute evocation of Spanish folklore and Gypsy Romanticism. The mixed choir under Pfaffís distinguished direction give a fine performance with just the right blend of melancholy and joie de vivre.

Other significant works from the first CD are the Fünf Lieder von Robert Burns op. 55 from 1846 (CD1, tracks 15-19). The composer dedicated the set and most likely wrote the works specifically for his conducting association with the Leipziger Liederkranz, a choral society founded by Mendelssohn. Schumann was a great admirer of the work of the Scottish poet Robbie Burns; who was extremely fashionable at the time. In these five four-part settings for mixed chorus Pfaffís choir adroitly and clearly allow Schumannís firmness of melodic talent to shine through.

Composed in 1848 Schumann wrote the five Hunting Songs Jagdlieder, Fünf Gesänge op.137 (CD2, tracks 21-25) in 1848 in the midst of the bloody revolution. For the Hunting Songs Schumann utilised the texts of Heinrich Laubes, the author, journalist, theatre director and politician. The impressive score was performed to considerable critic acclaim and it was said that these Songs would provide a welcome surprise to all who find enjoyment in noble things. The male voices deliver warmly committed accounts that have bite and vocal presence. The horns play with real enthusiasm and energy displaying a rich timbre which sounds pleasing on the ear.

Schumann composed a large number of choral songs for the Chorgesangverein in Dresden, the choral society that he founded in 1848 and of which he became director. Schumann carefully selected and arranged twenty of the songs into four volumes of five Romanzen und Balladen for mixed voices. There are many wonderful tender and joyous moments in these four volumes of songs which take up virtually the whole of CD3 (tracks 1-20). Particularly fine is the song in Im Walde from op.75 where an echo effect is achieved by the voices and in Das Schifflein from op. 146 which utilises horn and flute. In compelling readings overflowing with sheer musical artistry Werner Pfaff ensures that the choir conveys the folk-like simplicity of the songs while negotiating Schumannís stringent compositional demands.

Late in 1849 Schumann felt so inspired with his work with the Chorgesangverein that he attempted more complex choral projects. The two volumes of the Romanzen für Frauenstimmen op. 61 and 91 (CD4, tracks 1-6 and 11-17) with piano accompaniment were intended for the women members. Choral material for womenís only voices is fairly scarce and as the menís attendance record at the Chorgesangverein was said to be deplorable we have the reason for Schumannís motivation in expanding the repertoire. The thirteen songs of the Romanzen für Frauenstimmen strive for folkloric simplicity. The professional chorus of Studio Vocale Karlsruhe make light work of the technical difficulties that the amateur members of the Chorgesangverein were said to find difficult. The choir offer every opportunity for the listener to sample Schumannís expressive and imaginative scoring responding with praiseworthy accounts of the songs.

After Schumann founded the Dresden Chorgesangverein in 1848 his wife Clara Schumann played the piano part in many of the rehearsals and concert performances. Clara, who was to become the leading woman pianist of the nineteenth century, took advantage of the choral facilities made available to her and composed the Drei gemischte Chöre (CD2, tracks 1-3) from texts by Emanuel Geibel. The choral songs were subsequently performed as a surprise present for her husbandís 38th birthday. This wonderful three song set for mixed chorus is expertly performed by the Karlsruhe choir. The first song, Abendfeier in Venedig, is particularly impressive, overflowing with rich melody and is intensely moving.

As an epilogue to this first complete recording of Schumannís complete secular choral works comes a setting of the Schiller text Dem dunklen Schloß der heilgen Erde by Johannes Brahms. The work is an a cappella arrangement of the first of Schumannís Gesänge der Frühe, for piano, Op. 133. Brahms, who was a lifelong friend of Robert and Clara Schumann, composed the short song for the unveiling of Schumannís new memorial in the Old cemetery at Bonn. However the clergy refused to have this work performed at the cemetery owing to its secular text.

The comprehensive booklet notes are interesting and informative if somewhat difficult to understand.. Most of the poor translation and general errors that we had come to expect from Brilliant Classics are gratifyingly absent. All the texts are included in the forty-nine page booklet but no English translations, which is a terrible disappointment as they are clearly so important. Another snag is the confusing recording information where we are not sure which of the two vocal ensembles are singing which song either jointly or individually.

This four CD set from Brilliant Classics is most attractively presented utilising compact and well designed card wallets. At super-budget price the release is exceptional value. Charming a cappella choral works sensitively performed and recorded with numerous precious gems to be unearthed.

A most appealing set! Highly recommended!

Michael Cookson



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