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Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Romances and Ballads
Romanzen und Balladen I Op. 67 (1849) [11:29]
Romanzen und Balladen II Op. 75 (1849) [12:05]
Romanzen und Balladen III Op. 145 (1849-51) [10:04]
Romanzen und Balladen IV Op. 146 (1849) [11:09]
Romanzen I Op. 69 (1849) [13:02]
Romanzen I I Op. 91 (1849) [14:17]
Aquarius/Marc Michael De Smet
Marc Legros (flute); Pieter Martens (horn)
rec. 1-3 July 2004, 26 February 2006, O.L.V. Presentatiekirk, Sint-Niklaus, Belgium. DDD
Notes by Keith Anderson with texts available on Naxos website
NAXOS 8.570456 [72:46] 

In 1847 Schumann took over as Director of a male choir in Dresden at the suggestion of his friend Ferdinand Hiller, who himself had been preceded in the post by Wagner. The following year Schumann established a larger - over 100 singers - mixed choir the Verein fur Chorgesang. It was for this more ambitious group that he composed the four books of Romanzen und Balladen in 1849-51. In 1849 he also composed the Romanzen for womenís voices. Many of the songs in both groups were composed while the composer and his family were fleeing the revolutionary events in Saxony of 1848-49, although one would hardly know it from the music. 

As in his vocal works Schumannís literary expertise is evident in his choice of texts. Along with Goethe, the German Romantics predominate, although Robert Burns shows up three times and twice with the same poem. In the Op. 67 set, Nos. 4 and 5 stand out with Ungewitter (Thunderstorm) demonstrating emotional depth worthy of the larger symphonic works and with a surprising ending. Jon Anderson is the first Robert Burns poem, here in its first version. It is almost totally static, but extremely dramatic, a tour de force that only Schumann could have brought off. In the second set one must point out No. 3, Der traurige jager (The Melancholy Hunter), one of the highlights of the disc. Again the intensity reminds one of much bigger works and there some interesting harmonic excursions. No. 5, Vom verwundeten knaben (The Wounded Lad) brings something fresh to a very old poem.

In the third set of Romanzen und Balladen, No. 19, Der Sanger (The Singer) brings an interesting outdoor quality to accompany the title characterís wanderings. The set ends with the familiar story of the goose-boy in what surely must be the most extrovert version ever. Set Four has yet another Burns setting (Der Bankelsanger Willie) (No. 2) that is interesting for its light touch of Scottish dialect or Schumannís idea of such. The air of regret in Sommerlied (No. 4), with its drawn-out passages, is typical Schumann, while the fifth and last of the fourth set, Das Schifflein (The Little Boat) is reminiscent of the Schubertiads in its combination of voices and instruments. 

It must be confessed that the two sets of Romanzen, for womenís voices alone, are not nearly as interesting as the mixed-voice works. This may be due to fact that each set was written over a three day period and to the fact that the above-mentioned Verein fur Chorgesang had been founded precisely to get Schumann away from such works. There are exceptions. No. 5 in the first set Meerfey (Sea Fairy) is truly eerie in the way it produces a feeling of spirits under the water. The last of the set Die Kapelle (The Chapel) (No. 6) has some of this same intensity. In the second set, the sixth and last In Meeres Mitten (in the Middle of the Ocean) must be mentioned for its almost orchestral sound. 

Aquarius is a vocal ensemble founded by composer-conductor Marc Michael de Smet in 1995 as the Goeyvaerts Consort. They specialize in modern music, but have also prominently featured Schumann. On this record they have two great strengths-they have a near perfect blend of voices and their rhythmic abilities are just what Schumannís songs require. Their weakness is that their commitment or attention can vary from one song to the next. The Presentation Church in Sint-Niklaas provides a reasonably good acoustic for his type of music. Another successful Naxos exploration of little-known Schumann.

William Kreindler



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