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Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856): Duets and Piano Works
Duets: Erste Begegnung Op. 74 No. 1; Liebesgram Op. 74 No. 3; Botschaft Op. 74 No. 8; Mailied Op. 79 No. 10; Das Glück Op. 79 No. 16; Frühlingslied Op. 79 No. 19; Die Schwalben Op. 79 No. 21; Wenn ich ein Vöglein Wär Op. 43 No. 1; Herbstlied Op. 43 No. 2; Schön Blümelein Op. 43 No. 3; Mailied Op. 103 No. 1; Frühlingslied Op. 103 No. 2; An die Nachtigall Op. 103 No. 3; An den Abendstern Op. 103 No. 4; Ei Mühle, liebe Mühle Op. 112 No. 20; Ländliches Lied Op. 29 No. 1; Sommerruh (No. opus number); Bedeckt mich mit Blumen Op. 138 No. 4
PiaNo. Works: Abschied, Op. 82 No. 9 (from Waldszenen); Botschaft, Op. 124 No. 18 (from Albumblätter); Vogel als Prophet, Op. 82 No. 7 (from Waldszenen); Der Dichter spricht, Op. 15 No. 13 (from Kinderszenen); Träumerei, Op. 15 No. 7 (from Kinderszenen)
Anneli and Lilian Druve (sopranos), Lars Hägglund (piano)
Recorded 18 June 1999, in Studio 12 Swedish Television, Gothenburg (piano works) and 19 June 1999, in Fristad Church.
NOSAG RECORDS CD 046 [57:51]

During his short life Robert Schumann composed an enormous amount of music in most genres. He did this in spite of long periods of inactivity, not least caused by the mental instability which also caused his premature death. Moreover he passionately wrote musical criticism and edited his own musical journal. Also, as Stellan Sagvik points out in the booklet, was a prolific writer of letters: he wrote 2500 and received about twice as many. He was a workaholic; witnessed his creative periods including the ‘song year’ 1840 when music literally flowed out of his pen. His solo songs are well known, his duets much less so.

On this disc we have eighteen duets, described in the booklet as "Duets for two sopranos and piano"; in many cases they are intended for different voices. The first three, are extracted from the song cycle Spanisches Liederspiel, set for four voices: soprano, contralto, tenor and bass. All in all there are nine songs: two quartets, two solo songs and five duets, three of which are for soprano and contralto. Performed like that we get a much ampler sound while the use of two high voices makes it all thinner, more frail. Moreover, the variety Schumann certainly strived for, and which we get when the song cycle is performed complete, is lost when we are only served the duets. Hearing this many duets in a row, after a while, becomes a monotonous experience. There is also a sameness of mood through much of the program. The texts are mainly nature poetry and so there is a predominant pastoral feeling. It would have been a better idea to present the duets in groups of three or four and interspersed them with piano music instead of having that as an appendix. In this case it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway, since the duets and the piano pieces were recorded in different venues with very different acoustics.

What about the execution of the music? The two singers - who actually are twins, which is rare enough in the musical world – have had a solid education and work in a variety of fields in the Gothenburg region of Sweden. Lilian, who has also translated all the texts into Swedish, has also had a sports career. In 1999, the same year as this disc was recorded, she became Swedish Champion in Racketlon (table tennis, squash, badminton and tennis) and she has also been internationally successful, especially in badminton. They both have light, lyrical voices, which blend well - who else should blend better than twins? - and they articulate the texts well. That said, there is very little variety in tone colour and this contributes to the sameness I mentioned earlier. Worse than that, I am sorry to say, is a constant widening of vibrato in one of the voices as soon as it is under pressure, which it is very often above mezzo-forte. The result gives the impression that both singers are out of tune. It might have something to do with the generous bathroom acoustics of Fristad Church. This also affects the piano. It sounds as if the pianist is using the sustaining pedal all the time.

The piano music is played in drier but still generous acoustics and I believe the duets could have worked better in the TV studio too. Lars Hägglund is a good pianist, a notch over-emphatic at times but he gives a very credible account of Vogel als Prophet with some delicate touches. A bit on the slow side, perhaps, but that is nothing compared with Träumerei, the single piece by Schumann that "everybody" knows. At least I thought I did until Hägglund started to play it. At first I thought it was a misprint, then I recognised the tune but so slow it was that I wondered if something was wrong with my CD-player. Then I got out the piece from my admittedly meagre collection of sheet-music and found Schumann’s metronome marking "crotchet = 100". I don’t know if Schumann wrote it or if some latter day editor has added it, but that’s the tempo you normally hear. Hägglund’s metronome was set on approx. 40! Actually the whole performance is so slow that it is practically immobile. Just consider: most performers take 3:30, Hägglund takes 8:15. Of course it is always interesting to try new approaches, to bend rules, to test where the limits are, but ...

I am afraid I haven’t sounded too enthusiastic in this review. However much I admire the boldness and the ambitions I think this enterprise should have been restricted to a more local market. The notes and comments are in Swedish only. But collectors of curios might snap it up for the sake of Träumerei.

Göran Forsling

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