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 Schubert’s mantle.
Another important aspect
of Schumann’s 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 Schumann’s ability
for conjuring the imageries of childhood
from the child’s 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
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
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 Hyperion’s
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
there probably are, and one is certainly
Ann Murray’s 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.