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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Scenes from Goethe's Faust (1849)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)
Edith Mathis (soprano)
Walter Berry (bass)
Nicolai Gedda (tenor)
Barbara Daniels (soprano)
Kari Lövaas (soprano)
Hanna Schwarz (mezzo-soprano)
Norma Sharp (soprano)
Ilse Gramatzki (mezzo-soprano)
Harald Stamm (bass)
Chor des Städtischen Musikvereins zu Düsseldorf
Tölzer Knabenchor
Düsseldorfer Symphoniker/Bernhard Klee
Rec April 1981, Tonhalle, Düsseldorf
EMI CLASSICS 5 75667-2 [2CDs: 68.21, 41.53]



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In many respects Schumann is the archetypal romantic artist: deeply influenced by literature, committed to powerfully intense emotions, creatively aware of the virtuosity of performers. He was himself a fine pianist, and the first twenty-three of his published compositions were for his own instrument. His marriage to Clara Wieck in 1840 coincided with a new phase in his creative life, concentrating on song, for in that year alone he composed some 140 lieder. Then two years later chamber music became his priority, with three string quartets, and a piano quartet and quintet, the latter one of the finest examples of the genre.

Schumann also wrote four fine symphonies and three concertos, one each for the cello, the violin and the piano, as well as choral music and two works for the theatre. But the man himself remains something of an enigma, a depressive whose mental anguish resulted in 1852 in a failed suicide attempt, and incarceration in an asylum for the last two years of his tragically short life. Much of his output is little known, but there is no doubt that Schumann was one of the key figures of the romantic movement and one of the great composers of the 19th century.

Schumann was not fully at home with opera, despite the excellent music to be found in his Genoveva. The Scenes from Goethe's Faust has its operatic qualities, to be sure, but like Berlioz's Damnation of Faust, it occupies a hybrid position and is more at home in the concert hall, a kind of dramatic oratorio.

Schumann composed the work for the celebrations of the Goethe centenary in 1849, although not all of it was complete in time. It is no surprise that there were such difficulties, since the music is constructed on an extended scale and composed with great attention to detail. Here the symphonist and the song writer really do come together, and the responses to the text and the drama are intensely felt.

Parts 1 and 2 contain portraits and other aspects of Faust and Gretchen, whereas Part 3 (like the final part of Mahler's 8th Symphony) is concerned with Transfiguration. There are changes of style and approach as suggested by this epic scheme, but no matter. For this is a committed and visionary work which contains some of the best music Schumann ever composed, not least because for him it was a labour of love.

For example, he wrote nothing more dramatic than the scene depicting the blinding and death of Faust. Moreover, after hearing this, who dare suggest that Schumann was a poor orchestrator?

Bernhard Klee conducts a performance of vivid conviction and drama, though the visionary aspect which comes to the fore in Part 3 is appropriately lyrical in tone. Of the singers, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau takes the leading role, as he did also in the recording conducted by Benjamin Britten (on Decca). It is a tribute to his artistry that he is equally successful as Faust and, in Part 3, as Doctor Marianus. In truth there is a distinguished and particularly strong team of soloists in this performance: Walter Berry, Edith Mathis, Nicolai Gedda are all at the peak of their form. With very good, truthful recorded sound and high production standards, this recording still gives enormous satisfaction twenty years after it was made.

Terry Barfoot



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