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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Dichterliebe op.48 [30 :07], 7 Lieder op.90 [18 :13], Die Löwenbraut op.31/1 [08:15], Die arme Peter op.53/3, Belsatzar op.57 [04:28]
Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Gerold Huber (piano)
Recorded June 15th-16th, July 26th-27th 2004 at the Bavaria Musik Studios, Munich, Germany
BMG RCA RED SEAL 82876 58995 2 [65:48]

Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber have already recorded the three great Schubert cycles for BMGís bargain basement offshoot Arte Nova (my enthusiastic review of "Die schöne Müllerin" can be found on the site) so their "promotion" to RCA Red Seal is richly deserved, indeed heartening in view of the oft-repeated lament by the greats of the industry that they just canít sell classical music any more.

Gerhaherís wedding of words and music in "Dichterliebe" is quite wonderful, and he receives inestimable support from his regular pianist. Lucky the singer who can rely on such a close and understanding collaborator. At the beginning of the first song Huber sets a tender, withdrawn, "echt-Schumann" atmosphere, lost in wondrous contemplation, on which Gerhaher memorably floats his first entry. In many cases their interpretative solutions are slightly different from any that Iíve heard before, with the result that I seemed to be hearing the cycle with fresh ears, yet I cannot see that they do anything which is contrary to the score. In "Ich grolle nicht", for example, they have noted that it is to be performed "Nicht zu schell" (not too fast) and that it begins only mezzo-forte, so Geraherís opening has a truly speaking quality, which allows him to build the song up gradually but powerfully. The background dance to "Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen" is a wistful, almost hesitant affair, and again, Schumann marked it "Nicht zu rasch". I beg forgiveness if, as a pianist myself, I draw attention to minute pianistic points, but note how, in "Hörí ich das Liedchen klingen", Schumann has marked some of the upper notes in the arpeggios to sing for the rest of the beat, and others to last only their semiquaver length. You might think he is being fussy since this music is obviously to be pedalled so the notes will be prolonged anyway, but Huber lets us hear exactly which sing onward and which donít. He also makes nifty use of the third pedal at the end of "Aus alten Märchen" Ė at least, I donít see how else he could have observed the short quaver bass notes under the sustained chords, unless he has a Richter-like stretch of an octave and a fifth. The only thing is, since Schumann himself had neither a Richter-like stretch nor a third pedal, is this actually the effect he wanted?

Gerhaher at times fines his tone down to a whisper, opening "Ich habí im Traum geweinet" with sepulchral, vibrato-less tones. On the rare cases when his full power is brought forward, it is all the more overwhelming. All in all, this can join the classic readings of Schumannís greatest song-cycle.

In case you already have one of the other classic readings and are wondering if you need pay full price for another, the remainder of the disc contains far from hackneyed material. Schumannís later, more austere songs have not always enjoyed a good press, but Gerhaher and Huber make a richly rewarding experience of this often melancholy but deeply touching set. I did wonder if the final, wonderful song, "Requiem" might have been even more moving if sung with more simplicity. Well, I had to find something to query somewhere!

The remaining pieces are interesting in that they find Schumann turning his hand to unexpected subjects. While it is perhaps Schumann the adoring lover whom we value above all, it is interesting to hear him dealing with the grisly tale of the lion-tamerís daughter, Heineís weird "Poor Peter" and the Biblical story of Belshazzarís feast and the writing on the wall. The latter gives Gerhaher the chance to pull out all his considerable vocal armoury.

We are given informative notes in English, French and German, plus the original texts with an English translation; the recording has a rich presence. In short, an issue which shows that the high-quality classical product is not dead yet. But it will die if you donít buy it, so over to you.

Christopher Howell

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