Any recital by Juliane
Banse is more than welcome. This disc
is truly superb, an absolute treasure,
a very precious gem. The Sunday Times
said that Banse is a born lieder singer
and that this disc is a must-buy for
lieder lovers. That is inadequate. Banse
is ‘the’ lieder singer and listening
to this exquisite disc should convert
those who are not especially fond of
I also have to commend
Hyperion for the magnificent 88 page
booklet written by Graham Johnson that
accompanies this disc. It teems with
detail, and includes the texts in German
and English, detailed information and
even helpful comments on the piano parts.
I do not agree with some of the things
he says, however. There is a brief biography
of both artists. Graham Johnson is an
excellent accompanist and his contribution
must not be diminished or overlooked.
I am aware how difficult a skill and
discipline this is. No wonder he is
in demand and has worked with the very
best of soloists from Brigitte Fassbaender
to Anthony Rolfe Johnson.
Schumann's songs are
far, far better than those of Schubert
for many reasons most of which are obvious.
Schumann's songs are not superficial
and have integral piano parts not the
vamping of a few chords which often
pervades those of Schubert. Some of
Schubert's piano parts are dire and
simply awful. Schumann's vocal lines
are unrestricted and usually include
a greater range not only of notes but
of feeling. A Schubert song can be pretty
but a Schumann song is an experience
to be thought about. Having said that
Banse performs Schubert songs as well
as the material allows.
is flawless. She does not exaggerate
anything she does and the change in
her voice registers of chest, throat
and head are so beautifully controlled
that you do not notice it. That takes
a class singer of the highest order
to achieve. She is not a show-off with
screeching tessitura and growling low
notes which some singers indulge in
to show off and project how clever they
are or how difficult a song is. A good
singer makes everything sound effortless.
The whole range of Banse's voice is
both consistent and mercurial.
The song Der Ring
from Frauenliebe und Leben
is remarkable. The tempo is perfect,
the style exactly right, the tone simply
perfect and the effect creates a very
wonderful and moving performance that
speaks to the soul and the heart .
Consider the song Schneeglocken
Opus 96 no. 2 and admire the glowing
voice, the drama without affectation
and the thrilling sound. It is unbeatable!
These are just two
The opening song
Loreley is under-rated. Notice how
both the pianist and singer emerge from
the depths as it were and the magnificent
vocal control. Nostalgia without wallowing.
Jasminenstrauch is a glorious
song with filigree piano writing.
Sag an, o lieber Vogel mein is a
narrative song sung with a compelling
and beautiful simplicity. It is a song
that hovers between a scene of domestic
bliss and a lullaby. My, how well it
is sung and those rich top notes which
still send shivers down my spine! Der
Kartenlegerin, the Fortune teller,
is absolute fun and the unexaggerated
comic style reveals Banse's understanding
of this song. It is almost operatic
in style . The composer has captured
the femininity of the song which is
about a sixteen year old who is something
of a coquette. Note the importance of
the piano part. It is not just a Schubertian
type support. Blondel's Song is also
a substantial song in which each of
the verses end Suche treu, so findest
du which translated is Seek in faith
and you shall find. It reveals Schumann's
interest in history and the subject
of this narrative song is Richard I
who was imprisoned in 1192 by Leopold
of Austria. The songs of Mary, Queen
of Scots follow; another example of
Schumann's interest in history. Blondel's
song to King Richard is a little long
but the variety that Banse brings to
this keeps our interest. Note the quality
and commitment of Graham Johnson's accompaniment.
Leben, Op. 42 dates from 1840 and
is, without doubt, the first great song
cycle. Seit ich ihn gesehen speaks
of the young girl noticing this darling
man and saying that since seeing him
she is blind to all else. How marvellously
Banse captures the shyness of the girl,
the blushing face and the butterflies
in the stomach. Robert's Clara is here
and the work was composed when they
were negotiating their first home together.
Er, der herrlichste is a compelling
and flawless song as the girl wonders
at the kind and gentle man on whom she
has lavished her devotions. Her love
for him is so blissful
Then shall I rejoice
Blissful, blissful shall I be,
Even if my heart should break
Break, O heart, what does it matter?
Banse captures this
perfectly without sentimentality.
The third song, Ich
kann's nicht fassen, nicht glauben
is strong and confident as the man has
said to her, "I am yours forever." Her
girlishness is now to blossom in womanhood.
Der Ring is
sung in a moving performance that melts
the heart of even a hard person. The
engagement ring seals the promise to
marry. Hugo Wolf said that this song
was magical and unsurpassed. One waits
for the return of that sumptuous tune
in E flat and when it comes the heart
is glad. The next song is Helft mir,
ihr Schwestern in which the girl
asks her sisters to help with her wedding
dress. The arpeggio figure in the piano
part clearly suggests the trying on
and off of many garments. It is so convincing
and obvious. All the previous songs
has been private and this is the first
public one, the public being her sisters.
Susser Freund, du Blickest is
a song of happiness and joy but in the
nineteenth century it would not have
been deemed suitable. The girl who is
merely a young bride is already pregnant
and the husband wonders at her tears
for he does not know that he is to be
a father. The song is understandably
reflective but contains outbursts of
emotion; the piano interlude, brief
as it is, seems to suggest the presence
of the father. The intimacy is still
there, an emotion that only Schumann
and Wolf have ever successfully captured
in their songs. Childbirth is the subject
of An meinem herzen, an meiner Brust
and captures the joy of breast feeding,
the closeness and joy of a child of
one's own. Banse is magnificent and
totally convincing. The next song, Nun
hast du mir den ersten Schmerz etan
opens with a solemn D minor chord. The
dear husband has died. This song is
not hysterical of a tearjerker but mourning
is present with grief-laden trauma.
It is solemn but very touching and the
careful listener can hear the tolling
bells and the cortege procession.
There is a postlude
usually omitted from performances which
is spoken sotto voce and Banse
does it so well
Dream of my own days
That now are distant
Daughter of my daughter
You sweet child of mine
What this does is portray
the loneliness of widowhood and being
a single mother and now a grandmother.
It is very profound and very moving.
When I buried
The man I loved
I cherished my love
In my faithful heart.
Though my heart was broken
My courage stood firm
And the ashes of old age
Preserve the sacred glow.
A group of miscellaneous
songs follow. Die Soldatenbraut is
a strong confident song as the bride-to-be
of a soldier wants to tie the knot but
warns the soldier that in marriage he
will have a cross to bear at home. Banse
captures the idea that happy marriage
is nothing more than a fantasy!
Snowdrop, is a truly lovely song . The
power of the song does not accord with
the gentle snowdrop and shame on you
Graham Johnson for comparing it with
Schubert's song Viola and saying
that Schubert is superior! I revelled
at the purity of the top notes and how
a song of infinite variety was held
together by skill and insight.
is a strong song about the pain
of the past and how forgiveness may
be the only remedy. Gesungen is a fine
song which Mr Johnson compares to Schubert's
An die Musik ...oh dear, oh dear!
Do you hear the rain
lashing the leaves?
Do you hear branches snap in the sweeping
Hear too the sweet song of the birds
Commending themselves to the love of
The beauty that Banse
brings to Himmel und Erde is remarkable
and very profound.
Schumann was fascinated
by women and his settings of songs by
the Russian born Elisabeth Kulmann and
the Maria Stuart songs are further examples.
His attempts to elevate the Kulmann
songs to a position well above their
station and importance was ill-advised
and did not serve him well either.
After a spoken introduction
in German the first song Mond, meiner
Seele Liebling is disarmingly simple.
The second song has an opening narration
and is a choice little song although
slightly affected. The third has a spoken
introduction Du nennst mich armes
Madchen, a song of pathos with a
soaring melody line and fascinating
harmonies. Der Zeisig has the
same spoken introduction and reflects
Schumann's love of nature
It is Maytime, child
Cast aside your school books
Come out into the open
And sing a song with me.
The last three songs
in the set are also preceded by an opening
narrative and the final item Nachschrift
is entirely spoken.
I am not sure that
spoke introductions benefit us.
The Maria Stuart songs
are to poems written by Mary, Queen
of Scots. There are five songs which
deal with a quarter of a century in
a woman's life. The songs are a farewell
to France, a prayer after the birth
of her son, a poem to Queen Elisabeth,
a farewell to the world and a final
prayer. The songs are vastly better
than the Kulmann set. The first song
in E minor is almost speech and conveys
sadness, the second, also in E minor,
expresses exhaustion after childbirth
and her fear for her future and of her
son who was to become a king of England.
The song to the Queen is in A minor
whereas all the other songs are in E
minor, pleading for her to have a change
of heart. The penultimate song is one
of utter pathos What use is the time
still allotted to me?
Banse brings to these
exquisite songs a pathos that is unbearably
CD of the month? No.
CD of the year? No. CD of the decade?
That's more like it!
David C. F. Wright