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Robert SCHUMANN (1810–1856)
Lieder: Fünf frühe Lieder, op. posth. (1828): Kurzes Erwachen; Gesanges Erwachen; An Anna I; An Anna II; Im Herbste; Zwölf gedichte von Justinus Kerner, Op. 35 (1840): Lust der Sturmnacht; Stirb, Lieb’ und Freud’!; Wanderlied; Erstes Grün; Sehnsucht nach der Waldgegend; Auf das Trinkglas eines verstorbenen Freundes; Wanderung; Stille Liebe; Frage; Stille Tränen; Wer machte dich so krank?; Alte Laute; Fünf Lieder, Op. 40 (1840): Märzveilchen; Muttertraum; Der Soldat; Der Spielmann; Verratene Liebe; from Fünf Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 127 (1850-1851): Sängers Trost; From Vier Gesänge Op. 142 (1852): Trost im Gesang
Thomas Hampson (baritone), Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
rec. Siemensvilla, Berlin, December 1989
WARNER CLASSICS 2292 44935-2 [66:18]
Warner Classics are, it seems, reissuing their complete back catalogue of Erato and Teldec recordings. Recently a whole consignment of early Thomas Hampson recitals, of which this Schumann disc came my way, was put on the market. Having known most of them from earlier incarnations, they are all attractive acquisitions, especially at their new favourable prices. What also has to be applauded is the documentation which includes, in this case, a good essay on the music by Gerhard Schuhmacher, in three languages, and also the complete song texts with translations. Moreover it is all presented in well-nigh the largest print I have ever encountered in a CD booklet.
My first thought when starting the listening session was that the acoustic of the Siemensvilla was over-reverberant. My ears, or brain, soon adjusted to it as soon as I became engrossed in the music-making. In fact I had the same feeling when I resumed listening the next day. Clearly it is a bit on the resonant side, but this doesn’t affect the clarity of the sound, rather it gives an extra halo of warmth and the balance is faultless. Behind the Steinway concert grand Geoffrey Parsons presides. This discreet but ever-reliable musician listens to his partner and carries the voice on his palms - to make a laboured metaphor. The accompaniments are often quite sparse in these songs but they are nonetheless telling. As is often the case with Schumann, little interludes and postludes are used to fine effect.
Hampson’s voice is recorded during its early bloom caught with its surface completely unscratched. Not that it is particularly scratched even today but it has lost some of its lightness and easy delivery and has become greyer. This is something I first noted on his Verdi recital a few years ago. Here, in 1989, it is nimble, sappy, beautiful, perfectly controlled and moving effortlessly between head-voice and chest-voice. Now and then he resorts to falsetto, but it is so elegantly done that one doesn’t mind.
It could be argued that he is too laid back, too reticent and not expressive enough with words. Compared to Fischer-Dieskau he fails to words with the same emphasis, which on the other hand is more a question of attitude or approach to Lieder singing. Schumann would probably have recognized the songs better in Hampson’s versions, where the melodic line becomes the main carrier of the message. The message should come through in musical terms, provided the singer enunciates the text properly. This Hampson does, while still being very careful with the musical line. Fischer-Dieskau sometimes breaks the line through his stressing of words, even syllables, in a more interventionist approach. One should remember that before F-D Lieder singers seldom pointed the text so analytically. Listen to Schlusnus, Hüsch and even Hotter, three great artists, from roughly three different generations of Lieder singers. I am second to none in my admiration of F-D, having regarded him as the great idol - I don’t like the word but I couldn’t find a better one - for as long as I can remember. In most cases there is room for more than one approach and to my mind F-D’s and Hampson’s readings are equally valid.

It is a pity that these songs are not heard more often. Dichterliebe, Frauenliebe und –Leben, the two Liederkreis are frequently performed and recordings are legion, but the Zwölf Gedichte von Justinus Kerner Op. 35 were also a result of that remarkable Lieder-year 1840. The musical invention and the melodic richness are on the same high level. The five early songs, also settings of poems by Kerner, are agreeable enough, and Hampson sings them with loving care. The five Op. 40 songs, Andersen Lieder, since they are settings of Hans Christian Andersen, though translated from Danish by Adalbert Chamisso, are fascinating, not least as poems. Several of them have a surprising twist in the end. Muttertraum is interesting with its chromatics; the postlude almost belonging in the early 20th century. Der Soldat (The Soldier) marches powerfully and decisively towards the tragic end, Der Spielmann (The Minstrel) dances quite happily but the end is melancholy. Verratene Liebe (Love revealed) is all joy.
The twelve Kerner songs Op. 35 are the main attraction, though, and any Lieder lover who has not yet made their acquaintance should hasten to the nearest dealer or place an order with some internet retailer. They cover the whole spectrum from inward stillness to the most outgoing drama and Hampson has musical intelligence and the required vocal means to express all this. I would go as far as saying that he is the supreme lyrical baritone to have emerged during the last 25 years or so. I am not going to comment on every individual song, but point to some highlights. The first song; Lust der Sturmnacht (track 6) is a powerful tribute to the powers of nature, showing that Hampson has all the required vocal heft. He never goes over the top but is very near it. The text is not one for the weak-hearted: “The rain pours down and the tempest howls … travellers are lost at night …”. Auf das Trinkglas eines verstorbenen Freundes (track 11) in its dark solemnity becomes almost a sermon, delivered by Hampson with hushed intensity. Stille Liebe and Frage (tracks 13, 14) are sincere with fine interludes and postludes. In Stille Tränen (track 15) the singer builds each long phrase in one unbroken line, dynamics perfectly controlled, reaching a climax in the last stanza on “und morgens dann ihr meinet” with almost unbearable intensity. Parson’s postlude brings the listener back to normal pulse after this hair-raising suspense. Masterly singing of a masterly song! The two last songs (tracks 16, 17) are both inward, sung as near-whispers.
The two last songs on the disc, also Kerner settings from late in Schumann’s life, are not quite as inspired as the 1840 songs, but are good to have anyway.
I think it’s obvious that I liked this recital very much and I have no qualms about recommending it with enthusiasm.
Göran Forsling


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