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Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856)
Frauenliebe und Leben, Op. 42 [22:12]; Tragödie, Op. 64 No. 3 [4:50]; Liederkreis, Op. 24 [21:24]; 3 Heine-Lieder: Abends am Strand, Op. 45 No. 3 [3:22]; Lehn deine Wang’ an meine Wang’, Op. 142 No. 2 [0:47]; Mein Wagen rollet langsam, Op. 142 No. 4 3:51]
Brigitte Fassbaender (mezzo)
Irwin Gage (piano)
Recorded at Studio Lankwitz, Berlin, October 1984
ELOQUENCE 476 2386 [56:50]


I wonder if Brigitte Fassbaender ever made an uninteresting record. She could be wayward and, towards the end of her career, her voice could take on a hard edge and a heavy vibrato that didn’t always please the ear. Then again she always had something to say about the music, something unexpected. Take for example her highly individual Azucena in Giulini’s Trovatore or her utterly moving interpretation of that bleakest of song-cycles, Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. No, she didn’t interpret it, she lived the emotions. I remember her singing those songs at the Royal Castle in Stockholm in the early 1990s. It was very much a communication with herself, an inner monologue, where the audience were able to experience her feelings almost as voyeurs, looking and listening from without to her innermost thoughts. That was a hair-raising experience.

We get the same sense of inner monologue when listening to her in Frauenliebe und Leben on this disc. There are no big gestures, no histrionics, just an inwardness that becomes the more touching by being so toned down. Through the eight songs in the cycle she goes through so many different emotions: she can be jubilant (track 2), she can be calm and contemplative (track 4) or nervously eager (track 5). In the last song, Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan (track 8), the voice is darker with a streak of despair, but it is still an inner monologue where gradually the voice becomes almost drained. Irwin Gage’s postlude is just as deeply felt. This is a masterly rendering of the cycle and it is comparable to my old benchmark recording with Irmgard Seefried from the early 1960s.

In the same way she puts her individual stamp on the wonderful songs in Liederkreis Op. 24. There is in Fassbaender’s singing something of Callas’s intensity and identification, and she has the same ability as the older singer to colour the voice to suit each song. She can also, just as Callas, sacrifice beauty of tone to express the meaning of the words. When she chooses to sing beautifully, few singers of her own or any generation can be more hauntingly beautiful. Try track 14, Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen, one of Schumann’s most exquisite creations, or Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden (track 16) and of course the last song of the cycle, which is also the most well-known of them: Mit Myrten und Rosen. This is indeed Lieder-singing on the most exalted level. There have been few artists of this calibre during the post-war period.

An important contributor to the success of these readings is the playing of Irwin Gage. The two artists worked together for many years and one can feel how instinctively they think in the same direction. Besides the two song-cycles we also get the rarely heard three-part Tragödie, also very well done and, as encores, another three Heine-songs, the longest of them, Mein Wagen rollet langsam from the end of Schumann’s life, with a fine postlude that rounds off the collection.

First released by DG in 1985, it is good to have this disc back in circulation again, and at budget price. We have to do without texts and translations. These should always be provided with song records. Nevertheless we do get what I believe to be the original liner notes by Siegmar Keil and they go some way to compensate for the lack of texts. No lover of great Lieder-singing can afford to be without this disc.

Göran Forsling

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