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Robert SCHUMANN (1810–1856)
Melancholie, op.74/4 [2:08]
Liederkreis, op.39 (1840) [26:38];
Lieder, op.40 after Hans Christian Andersen & Adaelbert von Chamisso [12:21]

Sechs Gedichte aus dem Liederbuch eines Malers, op.36 [16:27]
3 Gesänge des Harfners aus op.98a (“Songs from Wilhelm Meister”) [8:33]
Tief im herzen trag’ ich Pein, op.138/2 [2:37]
Der Einsiedler, op.83/3 [3:56]
Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Gerold Huber (piano)
rec. Hochschule für Musik, Munich, 1-4 August 2007
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 88697168172 [73:00]
Experience Classicsonline

“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.

In 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. 

Between 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. 

Other 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.

He 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. 

It’s 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, Quasthoff (recently admired in recital), Höll, Terfel, and – yes – Fischer-Dieskau. The only singer I might currently prefer in this territory is a tenor – Werner Güra 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. 

The 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




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