On CPO there is a disc with Gabriele Fontana, supposed to cover
the complete songs by Clara Wieck Schumann. It was released in
1994. It also includes songs by Rimsky-Korsakov. I haven’t heard
that disc and further search on the web didn’t give any hits.
This new Naxos seems promising since it also includes first versions
of two of the songs from Op. 13. Moreover it was recorded in the
Schumannhaus in Zwickau on Clara’s own fortepiano. A period performance
in other words. Alas the outcome is far from convincing. There
is nothing wrong with the instrument, Hedayet Djeddikar plays
well – though it should be said that many of the accompaniments
are rather simple. The songs are also, as far as the earlier ones
in Op. 12 and 13, rather simple but many of them beautiful miniatures.
Warum willst du and’re fragen (tr. 3) from the first collection
and Ich stand in dunkeln Träumen (tr. 5) from the second
stick at once, as does Liebst du um Schönheit (tr. 2) but
here we are spoilt by Gustav Mahler’s setting of the same Rückert
The Six Lieder
from Jucunde Op. 23 are a different matter. They were
composed almost ten years later, in 1853, when Robert and
Clara had moved to Düsseldorf. Robert had read Hermann Rollert’s
novel Jucunde and thought the poems ‘very musical’
and he obviously inspired his wife to set some of them. By
then she was in an altogether bolder mood, more powerfully
expressive and with a more active and independent piano part.
They are perhaps less melodically enticing but with a greater
sense of true Lieder. Some of them are attractively lively,
not least Das ist ein Tag and O Lust, O Lust.
In that last song the piano part is strong and stormy, full
After this group
follows a number of independent songs, mostly from her first
Lieder period. Der Abendstern is beautiful and the
Robert Burns setting Am Strande has atmospheric rippling
water in the accompaniment. Heine’s turbulent Loreley
is also a fine composition and the concluding Walzer
is a jolly piece.
is interesting since it is the same Goethe poem that Mozart
set. Clara had met Goethe in her childhood and played for
him several times in October 1932, and he had given her a
medallion with his likeness on it in return. She had also
heard Mozart’s setting just a few months before composing
her own version but obviously forgotten all about it. Her
husband had liked her setting but it can’t compare with Mozart’s.
This was to be her last song, composed just after the Jucunde
songs. After Robert’s demise she ceased composing altogether.
There is no denying
that Clara Schumann’s compositions should be taken seriously
and there is a lot to admire and return to on this disc. Unfortunately
the singing gives very little pleasure. I don’t know if Dorothea
Craxton had an uncommonly bad week in the end of July 2007
or if she simply wasn’t up to the requirements. Her tone is
… well, bright but in the wrong sense; it is actually shrill
and too often undernourished. Intonation falters not infrequently
and she has a habit to start a long tone straight: without
vibrato and then gradually open up. This creates a sense of
constant plaintiveness, whatever the contents of the songs.
Some of the songs fare better than others but in the Jucunde
songs, which have claims to be some of Clara’s best, she
is sorely overpowered, squeezes the tone and produces that
hooting sound of some over-aged sopranos from the acoustic
To her credit
it should be said that she has clearly studied the songs carefully,
that she often is finds the right nuances and she has fine
sense for the musical phrase. The early songs are generally
held on an intimate scale – maybe too small-scale. In Heine’s
Volkslied, one of the finest songs, she is at her best
vocally, where the low tessitura brings out her mid-range
to good advantage. By and large, however, there is far too
much compromised singing to make this a recommendation.
Not having heard
the CPO disc I can anyway recommend BIS-CD-738, where Swedish
soprano Christina Högman sings ten of these songs and complements
them with ten of Fanny Mendelssohn’s finest songs and a handful
of songs by Alma Mahler.