Just a couple of months ago Naxos issued a disc with Clara Schumann’s
complete songs. These were performed by Dorothea Crazton and
I was not exactly boiling over with enthusiasm in my review
Sampling the Naxos again for this review I found no reason to
change or modify my verdict. In that review I mentioned a CPO
disc with Gabriele Fontana, which I haven’t heard, and
a BIS recording (BIS-CD-738) with Christina Högman, who
also sings songs by Fanny Mendelssohn and Alma Mahler. This Phoenix
Edition disc is highly recommendable. I forgot to mention Susan
Platts’s disc from less than a year ago, which is recommendable
too but only includes five songs by Clara, whereas her husband
Robert and friend Brahms are allotted the lion’s share
of the songs (see review
The present disc offers sixteen songs and could with advantage
have accommodated the complete oeuvre - the playing time is an
ungenerous 42 minutes. Still one can be grateful for what actually
is here, since Jörg Waschinski has picked most of the very
best songs. Another factor that has to be reckoned with is that
the songs are performed in arrangements - by the singer - for
voice and string quartet, which tends to soften the edges of
the music, wrapping the melodies in tissue paper. There is nothing
wrong with the arrangements. They are professionally written
but the sonorous stringed instruments reduce the clarity of the
piano - and Clara Schumann was a superb pianist - and enclose
the voice in a dreamy haze. Personally I don’t mind but
readers should know that this approach is a departure from the
composer’s intentions. The arrangements are in the main
unobtrusive and enhance the beauty of the melodies - and Clara
a marvellous melodist! Once or twice the
accompaniment becomes more active, as in Der Wanderer in der
, with plucked strings.
Jörg Waschinski is that rarity: a male soprano and just
as a counter-tenor generally sounds differently from a female
contralto or mezzo-soprano, so Mr Waschinski also produces sounds
that most listeners probably will soon identify as typically ‘male’.
The closest parallel is possibly the castratos of the 17th
centuries. The only castrato I or anyone else
has ever heard is Alessandro Moreschi. He recorded a number of
songs at the very beginning of the 20th
much of what he produces is plainly awful. I mention him only
because readers who have heard him, or will be able to find a
recording of him, will also immediately recognize the male character
of his tone. Jörg Waschinski has a beautiful, focused voice
with easy delivery, though the lower reach of the voice is rather
weak. He has a natural vibrancy that under pressure tends to
become more prominent and the voice production is somewhat uneven.
I can’t say that all the sounds he produces are completely
beautiful but there is a sincerity and fervour that is touching.
He phrases musically and with fine care for nuance. Some listeners
may need some time to adjust to the very special sound-world,
just as it was those many years ago when I first heard a counter-tenor;
it was Alfred Deller, by the way.
It seems that the combination of this very special and alive
soprano voice and the four accompanying strings serves to bring
out the beauty of these songs more effectively than ever. Walzer
elegant, Heine’s Volkslied
in every respect and Warum willst du andre fragen?
and Die stille Lotusblume
out as possibly Clara Schumann’s finest melodic inspirations.
I hope that there will be another disc with the complete songs
by Clara Schumann with the original piano accompaniments, more
worthily representative than the Naxos issue. As things stand
this very special disc, with Jörg Waschinski and the excellent
Aulos-Streichquartett Berlin, definitely fills a gap in the catalogue.