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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56)
Lieder: Gesänge, Op. 89 (1850) – No. 5, Ins Freie (1850) [2’21]; Myrthen, Op. 25 (1840) – No. 1, Widmung [2’12]; No. 7, Die Lotosblume [1’54]; No. 21, Was will die einsame Träne? [2’59]; No. 24, Du bist die Blume [1’58]; No. 25, Aus den östlichen Rosen [1’24]; No. 26, Zum Schluss [2’26]; Gedichte, Op. 36 (1840) - No. 5, Dichters Genesung [2’47]; No. 6, Liebesbotschaft [5’37]; Romanzen und Balladen, Op. 45 (1840) – No. 3, Abends am Strand [3’11]; Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 127 – No. 3, Es leuchtet meine Liebe [2’12]; Gesänge, Op. 142 (1852) – Mein Wagen rollet langsam [2’47]; Gedichte, Op. 90 (1850) – No. 2, Meine Rose [4’51]; No. 3, Kommen und Scheiden [1’14]; No. 4, Die Sennin [1’54]; No. 5, Einsamkeit [2’59]; No. 6, Der schwere Abend [1’26]; Gesänge, Op. 31 (1840) – No. 1, Die Löwenbraut [9’06]; Belsazar, Op. 57 (1840) [4’58]; Lieder, Op. 40 (1840) – Der Soldat [3’19]; Lieder und Gesänge IV, Op. 96 (1850) – No. 1, Nachtlied [3’19]; Gesänge, Op. 83 – No. 3, Der Einsiedler [3’39]; Romanzen und Balladen II, Op. 49 – No. 1, Die beiden Grenadiere [3’16]; Gedichte aus ‘Liebesfrühling’, Op. 37 (1840) – No. 1, Der Himmel hat eine Träne geweint [2’12]; Minnespiel, Op. 101 (1849) – No. 4, Mein schöner Stern! [2’23]
Matthias Goerne (baritone); Eric Schneider (piano).
Rec. Reitstadel, Neumarkt, Germany, on October 13th-4th, 2003. DDD
Texts and translations included.
DECCA 475 6012 [77’36]


Readers already familiar with Matthias Goerne will know of his intelligence as well as the natural beauty of his voice. Certainly the two come together magnificently in this sterling Schumann recital. Planning is excellent, thoroughly thought-through to make a straight traversal a pleasure. It is so complete in fact that, whatever its strengths (and they are legion), one does not feel like immediately hearing more. Not for nothing is the last lied heard the final song of the cycle Myrthen, Op. 25 - aptly named ‘Zum Schluss’ – ‘In conclusion’. Six Lieder from Myrthen - settings of Heine and Rückert - are in fact peppered throughout the recital. Also included are the dramatic ballads Belsazar and Die beide Grenadiere to make a recital that covers an usually wide emotional terrain. The later Schumann songs are a reminder of the fascination of this period of the composer’s creative output.

Curiously, it is the opening lied that asks the most questions – ‘Mir ist’s so eng überall!’ (‘Everywhere I feel confined!’) sings the protagonist, yet despite Goerne’s undeniable sense of authority, I wonder if he’s reflecting the distracted nature of the words themselves. There is another slight caveat, one that recurs later in the disc. As Goerne ascends to the higher parts of his range, his tone thins. This does not seem to be an expressive device as it recurs regularly. In a sense, then, it is the second lied on the disc (‘Du bist wie eine Blume’ from Myrthen) that more accurately reflects the recital as a whole. Here Goerne is completely at home, spinning his legato over a softly pulsating accompaniment. But again, a small caveat – do I detect an inserted ‘h’ on the word ‘Ei – (h) – ne’ in the first line? I can find no fault with the beautiful ‘Die Lotosblume’, another slow lied and one that shows off the bottom end of Goerne’s range. Both this and ‘Was will die einsame Träne’ that follows focus on Nature (no surprise in this repertoire) but in complementary ways, the first an appreciation thereof, the second a reflection on the transitory way of life/love.

Looking at the text for ‘Dichters Genesung’ one might expect one of the longer lieder. In fact it is a mere 2’47 and affords an excellent opportunity to revel in Goerne’s exemplary diction and, indeed, characterisation; the words of the Elf-Queen are in inverted commas, and Goerne appropriately lightens his tone at this point.

It is in the slow, simple lieder that Goerne excels. ‘Liebesbotschaft’ glows precisely with Goerne’s careful handling, not over-emoting over Eric Schneider’s sweet bed of sound. And thereby preparing the coup of the final, ultra-tender line - and it is performed in that way, too - ‘der ich einzig nur maggedenken’ (‘she is all that I think of’).

‘Abends am Strand’ is a strange poem, slurring as it does the people of Lapland (‘In Lappland sind schmutzige Leute, plattköpfig, breitmülig, klein’; ‘In Lapland the people are dirty, flat-headed, wide-mouthed and small’), yet Schumann writes with such beauty that it is a compelling composition. What a contrast lies in the next lied, the late ‘Es leuchtet meine Liebe’ (‘My love shines forth’). Urgent and determined, in this performance it seems intent on bursting the bounds of its remit as lied such is its dramatic impact.

One of the most impressive of the lieder here comes in the form of ‘Die Löwenbraut’, Op. 31 No. 3, a nine minutes plus setting of Adalbert von Chamisso’s poem about the relationship between a keeper’s daughter and a lion, and how the child connects with the beast only to be mauled by it. This has to be the highlight of the recital. Goerne and Schneider are absolutely mesmeric. By not hurrying in the least, the performers keep the tension growing and growing as the poem progresses. Schumann’s setting is masterly – note the adventurous, ‘scrunchy’ harmonies around 7’00 as the lion bars the girl’s exit The coda is absolutely gripping.

The decision to juxtapose this with another long poem (‘Belsazar’, at 4’58) is a brave one, but one that works. This song could almost be subtitled, ‘On the dangers of blasphemy’, and Goerne and Schneider tell the tale in the bleakest of terms. Again, Goerne can seem a little strained at the top, but the recompense is the spine-chilling declamation of the final couplet: ‘Belsazar ward aber in selbiger Nacht von seinen Knechten umgebracht’; ‘But that very night Belshazzar was slain by his vassals’.

‘Der Einseidler’ (‘The Hermit’) is given with a lovely, silken line, the dynamic level so consistently low that Goerne hardly has to raise the volume at all for the climactic final stanza - beginning, ‘O Trost der Welt, du stille Nacht!’; ‘O solace of the world, you silent night!’. A supreme utterance in itself, it provides also the perfect foil for one of the most famous Schumann Lieder, ‘Die beide Grenadiere’. Another lied in which the singer is asked to articulate different characters, Goerne varies his tone accordingly. Goerne does sound strained at the word ‘Kanonengebrüll’ (‘Cannon’s roar’), although he and his pianist both clearly enjoy the Marseillaise reference.

The Romantic sweep created by Schneider’s seemingly impulsive accompanimental figure for ‘Widmung’ is carried through by Goerne. The shifting moods meld miraculously; the line ‘Du bist die Ruh’ is truly magical. Only fitting that when we arrive at the final lied on the disc (‘Zum Schluss’), its dark shadow is cast long after the music dies.

Wonderful.

Colin Clarke

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