“Especially late Schumann! The darker, the better.” That’s
– roughly – baritone Christian Gerhaher’s musical
preference. “Gruftmusik (Crypt-music) is what it’s really
at, ain’t it” was Heinz
Holliger’s comment in coy approval of his friend, Gerhaher’s,
predilection for the torn, near-demented, struggling, and often
morbid songs that came from periods in Schumann’s life that must
have known harrowing darkness.
an interview from last year
he admits that this is not at all audience-friendly material
and he won’t likely be able to throw together a program only
of favorite songs if tickets are to be sold. But RCA, his
record company, has indulged him – and very tellingly produced
a marvelous and marvelously dark recording that opens with
Melancholie op.74/6 and closes with Der Einsiedler
(“The Recluse”) from Drei Gesänge, op.83 and Tief
im Herzen trag’ ich Pein (“Deep within, my heart contains
anguish”), from Spanische Liebeslieder op.132.
these two capstones is a very generous recital (73 minutes,
total) of the Eichendorff Liederkreis op.39, the five
op.40 songs on H.C.Andersen and Chamisso poems, Sechs Gedichte
aus dem Liederbuch eines Malers op.36, and three rarely
found selections from the “Songs from Wilhelm Meister” op.98a.
The only section I half expected to find and didn’t, is op.64,
no.3 – Tragödie.
than that, Gerhaher didn’t skip very many gloomy minutes of
Schumann – and if you didn’t think of some of the included
songs as particularly grim – An den Sonnenschein (“To
Sunshine” or Nicht’s Schöneres (“Nothing More Lovely”)
– you will, after hearing Gerhaher’s interpretation.
does grim better than anyone; he is the master of bleak,
a prince of austerity. All along he also has a voice that,
the more I hear of it, the more it seems absolutely made for
Lieder. It is never casual - a quality I also like
- but it is very natural, strong enough when necessary yet
gentle, relaxed, not dense. It’s just a little ‘learned’,
but not the kind of professorial singing that seems to communicate:
“This is how Schumann ought to be sung.” Intellectually
stilted pathos isn’t his métier, and if his singing sounds
pretty serious, it’s essence is a pleasant humility.
titillating how successful this combination of “high art” and
naturalness is. Tastes change – but for the time being I find
his singing (rather than just “his voice”) more attractive than
that of Goerne,
admired in recital), Höll,
Terfel, and – yes – Fischer-Dieskau. The only singer I might currently
prefer in this territory is a tenor – Werner
who may not have had much opportunity to shine in a Matthew Passion
I’ve heard him in this Easter, but who has recorded a nice little
Mozart CD recently. You can hear them together in Harnoncourt’s
2007 Christmas Oratorio – studded with the best available singers
and one of the better recently released recordings of that work.
choice of songs and their order is fine – forget the ‘gloomy-talk’
for a second – and make for happy listening in one sitting. And
hitting the repeat button a few times, too. Lesser known pieces
are dotted between ‘standards’. If Dichter’s Genesung (op.36/5)
seems familiar, it’s probably because it’s very similar to Die
beiden Grenadiere and Belsatzar. As on his previous CDs and in recital, Gerhaher forms
one logical and expressive unit with Gerold Huber whom Gerhaher
accompanies. He ‘disappears’ in the music – not because he is
timid but because he inseparably a part of it, a Lieder-pianist: decidedly not a mere accompanist and neither intruding on the
songs with self-conscious flashes of virtuosity.
Jens F. Laurson