Hard on the heels of
– or rather over-lapping – their ongoing
Schubert song series, Naxos have launched
what is intended to be a complete Schumann
cycle. This is already volume 2, the
first, with Liederkreis Op. 24
and Dichterliebe (Naxos
8.557075) [to be reviewed],
released a few months ago. The singer
on that volume was the young German
baritone Thomas E. Bauer, who appears
again on this disc, partnered by the
likewise young soprano Susanne Bernhard.
I haven’t heard the first volume, but
judging from what I hear here, Bauer
has all the requirements to sing a splendid
Dichterliebe. And he is only
one of several young Lieder-singing
baritones with the same basic qualities:
a lightish, well-schooled, quite tenoral
and very beautiful voice, phrasing sensitively,
capable of exquisite pianissimo singing,
expressive and with unforced high notes.
Stephan Genz is probably the most well-known
among this new school. We can’t expect
them to impress through volume and thundering
fortes, but this doesn’t exclude high-strung
drama with smaller means (intensity
is seldom synonymous with volume) and
the question is if a more intimate approach
isn’t what the composers had in mind
when writing their Lieder in the 19th
century. Bauer shows his dramatic talent
in the dark Wer nie sein Brot mit
Tränen ass (track 12) and also
Ballade des Harfners (track 10)
has a more "meaty" sound.
But what impresses most is, as I have
already implied, his lyrical singing
with a myriad of nuances. Just listen
to tracks 1, 3 and 6 to see what I mean.
I am sure we are going to hear much
more of him in the future and he has
already a quite extensive discography.
voice is quite different from Bauer’s,
where Bauer’s is rounded, almost honeyed,
Bernhard’s is bright and penetrating.
In their duets I get a feeling that
Bauer’s more intimate voice is closer
to the microphones. But Bernhard is
also a sensitive singer, she phrases
musically and the timbre of her voice
is very beautiful, but she has a narrower
palette of colours than Bauer, who seems
to be a more natural Lieder singer.
We find her at her most expressive in
Heiss’ mich nicht reden (track
13) and she can be light and lively
as in track 15 and in the two last songs
she sings long phrases with a fine legato.
The duet Ich bin dein Baum, o Gärtner
(track 20) finds both singers on top
form and the song is a gem.
The pianist, Uta Hielscher,
works regularly with Thomas Bauer and
her playing is everything one could
ask for. Schumann songs are always grateful
for the pianist, especially the postludes,
when the piano is in the limelight.
Hielscher is very good in track 12,
to mention just one instance.
The songs, from two
groups of poems by Rückert and
poems from Goethe’s novel Wilhelm
Meister, do not belong to the more
well-known from Schumann’s large oeuvre
of Lieder, but this doesn’t mean that
they are of inferior quality. I have
already mentioned one gem and there
are several others, e.g. track 1,
Der Himmel hat eine Träne geweint
and the often set Goethe poem Nur
wer die Sehnsucht kennt (track 11).
The twelve poems from Rückert’s
composed in 1841, i.e. while he was
still in his early Lieder period. Three
of the poems were actually set by his
wife Clara, but only Robert’s own settings
are included here. He returned to Rückert
almost a decade later with "Minnespiel",
a composition for several voices, from
which the songs intended for solo voice
are sung on the present disc. The contemporaneous
songs from "Wilhelm Meister"
show Schumann as a more dramatic composer
and he had actually planned to make
an opera libretto from Goethe’s novel.
These songs are more recitativic and
declamatory; the earlier mentioned Wer
nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass
(track 12) is a splendid example of
this "new" Schumann.
To sum up, these are
excellent readings of some lesser known
songs by one of the greatest German
Lieder composers. Both singers are young
and fresh and may in the future deepen
their interpretations even further,
but especially Thomas Bauer is already
in the forefront among present-day Lieder