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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
The Songs of Schumann Volume 9

Liederalbum für die Jugend Op. 79
with piano pieces from Klavieralbum für die Jugend Op. 68
Felicity Lott (soprano)
Ann Murray (mezzo)
Graham Johnson (piano)
Rec. 20-22 January 2004 (venue unspecified)
HYPERION CDJ33109 [78.55]

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. He then went on to match this achievement in the field of solo song, in which regard he became the true inheritor of Schubertís mantle.

Another important aspect of Schumannís creative nature was his fondness for creating large-scale compositions out of sequences of miniatures. He developed this trend in piano works such as Carnaval and Kreisleriana, and continued it in the vocal song cycles, including Dichterliebe and the two groups of songs under the title Liederkreis (Opp. 24 and 39).

All of these issues are germane to this collection of songs presented by Felicity Lott and Ann Murray, with the expert support of Graham Johnson. There is a general theme at play, as evidenced by the titles Liederalbum für die jugend and Klavieralbum für die jugend. Has any other composer surpassed Schumannís ability for conjuring the imageries of childhood from the childís point of view? This is a difficult question to answer, in fact, since it will always be answered by adults; but it remains true that Schumann did have a special interest in these imageries and returned to them regularly. He also presided over a household whose daily routines must have centred on the large number of offspring who were present.

It is generally a feature of Hyperion issues that the documentation is thorough and thoughtful. So too here, including some pertinent observations by Graham Johnson himself, who points out that although these pieces were published together, they were not necessarily intended to be performed that way. In fact the music certainly benefits from some judiciously chosen groupings rather than the complete sequence.

Such choices are aided by the layout, which intersperses 16 piano pieces within the 29 items from the Liederalbum für die jugend. The results are all gain, especially since the musical judgements are always so sure. Sometimes exact links are found, as when the piano piece Erster verlust feeds the song Das Käuslein (the owl).

There are few if any more sensitive singers than Felicity Lott and Ann Murray, whose performances are idiomatic and scrupulously prepared. In this repertoire youthfulness of voice is an obvious issue, but each singer maintains a fresh and eager approach which suits the purpose to perfection. The sensitive recorded balance of voice and piano is another tribute to Hyperionís now familiar standards in such matters. Again and again the simple yet telling nature of the songs brings particular benefit for the listener, to the extent that calling forth highlights seems invidious.

However, highlights there probably are, and one is certainly Ann Murrayís delightful rendering of Der Sandmann, while Dame Felicity shows her artistry to perfection in the three Mignon settings. These latter songs share a theme but do not repeat one another. Rather each builds in intensity of expression from one to the next, reaching to a finely drawn climax. Perhaps this forms the climax of the whole impressive enterprise.

Terry Barfoot

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