Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Der Rose Pilgerfahrt (1851)
Christoph Prégardien (tenor) - Narrator
Anna Lucia Richter (soprano) - Rose/Rosa
Michael Dahmen (baritone) – Gravedigger
Michael Gees (piano)
South German Chamber Choir/Gerhard Jenemann
rec. Musikschule Aschaffenburg, Germany, 24-26 October 2009
Text and translation included.
CARUS 83.450 [62:33]

The delightful story of Moritz Horn’s fairytale/idyll Der Rose Pilgerfahrt immediately appealed to Schumann, composer of Das Paradies und die Peri. A rose yearns to be loved as humans are loved. The Queen of the Elves sends her (as Rosa) to the humans, a rose in her hand acting as deposit for her earthly happiness. She is initially turned away, but experiences compassion while attending a funeral. An elves chorus (and of Part I) attempts to lure her back. A grave-digger gives her shelter overnight before a miller takes her in (Part II) - the miller’s daughter had recently died of lovesickness and Rosa is the dead girl’s Doppelgänger. Rosa becomes part of the village and marries Max, the forester’s son, giving birth to a son. Rosa places a rose in her son’s hand and dies a “death full of sunrise”.

Perhaps better known in its orchestral version, Schumann wrote that he deemed the piano accompaniment as sufficient. The overall feeling is of folk-like innocence. Michael Gees is a most musical pianist, his introductions and postludes providing much joy. His awareness of the power of dissonance in Schumann’s postludes is most obviously - and effectively - heard at the end of the funeral scene (end track 8 of the present disc).

The work opens with Spring’s breezes melting Winter and ushering in Spring, the season of love. A tenor (Prégardien) announces the arrival of St John’s Day. Prégardien’s voice is fresh and perfectly pitched, the ideal lead-in to the concept of Nature’s rebirth. Similarly fresh is Anna Lucia Richter as the central figure of the rose. The section in Part I where Prégardien narrates the awakening of the Rosenkind (Rose-Child) is beautifully and touchingly managed, just as is his description of Rosa’s first experience of pain. The narration that opens the work’s second part, too, is ideally managed by Prégardien.

Richter projects a real sense of wonder as the wandering innocent. Her mournful exclamations as she meets Death in the form of the funeral are most touching; her sadness in the final moments of parting is almost palpable.

The part of the Grave-Digger is taken by the bass Michael Dahmen, who is appropriately stony-faced in delivery as Rosa experiences her first lessons in empathy. As he melts towards Rosa inviting her to stay with him and relating the story of his deceased wife, his voice takes on a real human warmth.

Unfortunately only the major soloists are listed in the obvious places on the product itself. The choir-listing, which holds most of the answers, tells us that Martha (who turns away Rosa in Part I) is sung by Elvira Bill, while the Fairy Queen and Miller’s Daughter are taken by Sibyla Müller. Julius Prégardien is Max and Thomas Schülz is the Miller. The bass on track 19 is unidentified anywhere, as far as I can see.

The South West German Radio Chorus is delightful as a chorus of Elves - translated as fairies in the booklet. They conclude Part I with a quasi-Mendelssohnian lightness; harmonic twists tell us this is Schumann’s world of fairies, however. The Male Voices are wonderfully evocative of the forest in Part II - with horn-calls on piano adding to the scene - while the whole chorus exults in the marriage of Rosa and Max. It is the chorus that has the final word, and its description of the Heavens’ calling to Rosa is blissfully managed. The whole is ably shaped by Gerhard Jenemann, so that the dramatic trajectory is honoured. We feel the longing of the lovers in the second part as a vital part of the work’s journey. The duet between Max and Rosa, track 17, is a lyrical highlight. The festive joy of the wedding is a real arrival point - lusty choral soloists, a tenor and a baritone, imitate horn-calls for the early morning call to the wedding.

There are recordings of the orchestral version of this piece (Gustav Kuhn on Chandos and Frühbeck de Burgos on EMI) but it is well worth experiencing the piano version, especially when as sensitively delivered as this. The recording is excellent - the sound-stage is believable, with the piano naturally placed.

Colin Clarke

Well worth experiencing the piano version especially when as sensitively delivered as this.