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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Songs of Love and Loss
Mein Schöner Stern! Op.101 No.4 (1849) [2:44]
Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Op. 135 (1852) [9:43]  
Requiem, Op. 90 No. 7 (1850) [4:07]  
Liederkreis, Op. 39 (1840) [25:29]  
Frauenliebe und -leben, Op. 42 (1840) [23:54] 
Sarah Connolly (mezzo); Eugene Asti (piano)
rec. 12-14 December 2007, Potton Hall, Suffolk
CHANDOS CHAN10492 [65:58]
Experience Classicsonline

In many respects Schumann is the archetype of the romantic artist: deeply influenced by literature, committed to powerfully intense emotions, creatively aware of the virtuosity of performers.  He was himself a fine pianist, and the first twenty-three of his published compositions were for his own instrument. He then went on to match this achievement in the field of solo song, in which regard he became the true inheritor of Schubert’s mantle.
Another important aspect of Schumann’s creative nature was his fondness for creating large-scale compositions out of sequences of miniatures. He developed this trend in piano works such as Carnaval and Kreisleriana, and continued it in the vocal song-cycles, including for example Frauenliebe und -leben and the two groups of songs under the title Liederkreis (Opp. 24, 39).
All of these issues are germane to this collection of songs presented by Sarah Connolly with the expert support of Eugene Asti. Under the collective title 'Songs of Love and Loss', this Schumann programme includes two cycles from the great song year of 1840, the Liederkreis and Frauenliebe und –Leben. The remaining songs come from later in the composer’s life: the collection entitled Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart Op.135, the beautiful short 'Requiem' from Op.90 and 'Mein schöner Stern!' Op.101 No.4. These show no falling-off in quality, despite the commonly-held view that his encroaching final illness undermined the quality of the composer’s later compositions.
There are abundant alternative performances of Frauenliebe und –Leben and the Liederkreis, but Sarah Connolly brings a distinguished addition to the catalogue. While many great artists have brought their insights to the former, a personal favourite is the 1996 Deutsche Grammophon disc by Anne-Sophie von Otter with Bengt Forsberg (445 881 2), while in the Op. 39 Liederkreis there is always the issue of whether a man’s voice is better. Among notable interpretations is that of Bryn Terfel, for instance, with Malcolm Martineau (again DG, 447 042 2). Therefore the excellent Sarah Connolly does not become an instant top recommendation, but she does have both the technique and the insight to do full justice to these great songs.
In Frauenliebe und –leben Connolly and Asti tend towards slower tempi, perhaps missing some degree of ardour, though a real highlight of their performance is 'Du Ring an meinem Finger', in which there is much intensity. The balance between voice and piano is nicely achieved by both the artists and the Chandos engineers, while the recording venue, Potton Hall in Suffolk, is a tried and tested acoustic well suited to chamber music and songs.
Although Connolly is not a native German speaker, her treatment of the language is assured and the treatment of the text abounds in all the subtleties the songs have to offer, with a vocal timbre that is rich and nicely in focus. The collaboration of the artists seems even better in the lesser-known songs. For instance Requiem moves to a convincing climax after a beautifully chaste opening phase, and the somewhat austere songs on poems attributed to Mary Queen of Scots have an intensity that is all their own. Perhaps her preference for slower tempi pays its strongest dividends here.
Terry Barfoot


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