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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Dichterliebe op.48 [28:09]
Liederkreis op.24 [19:33]
Liederkreis op.39 [25:02]
12 Gedichte von Justinus Kerner op.35 [32:43]
12 Gedichte aus Rückerts Liebesfrühling op.37: 1. Der Himmel hat eine Träne geweint [02:04], 5. Ich hab’ in mich gesogen [01:51], 9. Rose, Meer und Sonne [04:35]
4 Gesänge op.142: 4. Mein Wagen rollet langsam [03:56]
Der arme Peter op.53/3 [04:48]
Tragödie op.64/3: I, II [03:42]
4 Gesänge op.142: 2. Lehn deine Wang’ [00:48]
Myrthen op.25: 24. Du bist wie eine Blume [01:54], 21. Was will die einsame Träne [02:27], 7. Die Lotusblume [01:50], 1. Widmung [01:55], 2. Freisinn [01:20], 17. Venetianisches Lied I [01:44], 18. Venetianisches Lied II [01:11], 3. Der Nussbaum [03:09], 5. Aus dem Schenkenbuch im Divan I [00:39], 6. Aus dem Schenkenbuch im Divan II [00:53], 25. Aus den östlichen Rosen [01:49], 26. Zum Schluss [01:59]
Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone), Imogen Cooper (piano)
rec. June 1994 (opp.24, 25/21, 25/24, 25/27 (no such song exists, probably they mean no.7), 48, 53/3, 64/1, 142/2, 142/4), October 1999 (op.39), Haydnsaal, Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt, Austria; December 1998 (opp.25/2, 25/3, 25/5, 25/6, 25/17, 25/18, 25/25, 25/26), 35, 37, Jugendstiltheater, Vienna
PHILIPS ELOQUENCE 476 9974 [72:52 + 75:34]

The Holzmair/Cooper Lieder collaboration has been held up as perfection incarnate in some quarters. Just as well I knew this or I might have thought them rather dull.
What, are they not still dull, then? Or rather, are they not perfection incarnate?
Perhaps that’s the trouble, really. As I listened to the first song of Dichterliebe a smile came to my face and I thought this was going to be marvellous, it was all so caressingly gentle, everything so beautifully in place and, well, perfection incarnate. But the smile became forced as it went on. It’s rather like somebody entering heaven for the first time and listening, entranced, to all the angels sitting on their clouds and playing their harps, until it dawns on him that that’s all they do the whole bloody time.
Holzmair’s basic manner is one of gentle, wistful self-communion, conveyed with a sliver of voice apparently groping its way forward. Occasionally he is forced by the music to paint with a broader brush but he keeps such moments to a minimum and even in the midst of such songs is happier to relapse into private meditation as soon as possible. It is non-interventionist singing taken to the nth degree and I suppose that after a surfeit of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau you might enjoy it for a while. Imogen Cooper occasionally shows signs of passion in the piano postludes, but her tone is dry for Schumann and she generally keeps things small-scale.
I much admired Holzmair’s recent discs in the Naxos Schubert cycle. Maybe he has widened his range with time. Maybe he is better suited to portraying the inner disquiet of poor sickly Schubert, wandering hopelessly through a world to which he no longer belonged. Schumann was a passionate participant in this world, never more so than when setting Heine (opp.24, 48, 53, 64, 142 and some of op.25). Holzmair appears lost in rapt contemplation of hazel trees, lotus flowers – OK when he really is, of course – cabbage patches, pretty duck ponds … The passionate, pleading, adoring voice of Schumann is not present to my ears.
Things are better in the Eichendorff settings of the op.39 Liederkreis where the poet himself is more inclined to contemplate the natural world, less happy still in the Kerner cycle, of which the bleakness is better portrayed than the power. I shall return to this set for some individual interpretations – the first Venetian Gondola-Song is interestingly done, for instance. Maybe one day I shall appreciate these extremely laid-back readings more than I do now.
I last came this way when reviewing a 4-CD album of the young Peter Schreier’s (East) Berlin recordings. I was highly critical of the presentation but I had only praise for the singing. Making a few comparisons I don’t think I praised it enough! Schreier is not exactly an interventionist either, but wherever you go you find just that little touch that brings an extra vividness, the words that tiny bit further forward and a more astute use of a smallish voice to create a wide range of expression, achieving high drama at times.
Schreier is a tenor, of course. If you particularly want Dichterliebe sung by a baritone, but a less interventionist one than DF-D, I can recommend two superb discs which I have reviewed for MusicWeb: Gerhaher/Huber on RCA Red Seal (82876 589952) and Maltman/Johnson on Hyperion (CDJ33105). These are top price issues and the latter is part of Hyperion’s complete Schumann series. If you collect this you will get the most detailed notes imaginable on each song, together with texts and translations. Both baritones give wonderful performances and lieder connoisseurs should not miss them.
But to return to Schreier and Holzmair. I didn’t have the time to listen again to every song in Schreier’s interpretation, so I set about sampling here and there. But when I came to Stille Tränen, from the Kerner cycle, I just HAD to listen to the end. There’s ten times the emotional punch in this one song than in all Holzmair’s two CDs put together. If Schreier had done nothing else he’d be a great singer for this alone. So, in spite of the woefully inadequate presentation, go to Schreier for well-nigh definitive interpretations of most of the songs that can be sung by a male singer.
The presentation of the Holzmair is not marvellous either. The notes by Raymond Tuttle give quite a good introduction, but there are no texts or translations.
Christopher Howell


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