Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Scenes from Goethe’s Faust WoO 3 (1844-53)
Iwona Hosse (soprano); Christiane Labor (soprano); Anna Kubanska (alto); Ewa Marcininec (alto); Daniel Kirch (tenor); Jaakko Kortekangas (baritone); Andrew Gangestad (bass);
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir; Warsaw Boys’ Choir
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall, 21-28 April 2009. DDD
Texts included
NAXOS 8.572430-31 [73:06 + 43:36]

Schumann was a voluminous composer of choral music, both large and small. Among his choral works are several giant cantatas, the best-known of which is Paradise and the Peri, followed by the Scenes from Goethe’s Faust. As the title indicates, Schumann, in the latter work, sets several individual episodes from Goethe’s poem rather than elaborating on a particular scene as do Liszt and Mahler, or creating a more continuous narrative, like Berlioz and Busoni. Nevertheless, through use of thematic and rhythmic variation the composer welds together a piece that is far less episodic than you might think.

Schumann wrote Scenes from Goethe’s Faust in spurts between 1844 and 1853. He wrote Part 3 in 1844 and 1847, the Overture in 1853 and the other sections in between. The work is divided into three parts, with the first approximating the events portrayed in Gounod’s Faust. The second deals with Faust’s confrontation with the Evil Spirits, his efforts to better mankind, and his death. The third part sets the final scene of Goethe’s poem, with Faust ascending to heaven. Of these three parts the most interesting is the second. Here Schumann’s sense of drama - not always his strongest point - combines with his rhythmic and even orchestral skills to produce a unified and inspiring picture that has to count as one of the highpoints of his output. Part 3 is also very moving, but Schumann obviously did not feel up to providing an overwhelming finale à la Liszt or Mahler; instead he opted for something gentler.

As can be seen from the above this is a work that requires large forces, including seven soloists, each taking multiple roles. Christine Libor is appropriately plaintive as Gretchen, but Iwona Hosse is more impressive as both the spirit of Worry and as the Magna Peccatrix. Anna Lubanska is creditable as the spirit of Want. Among the men the standout is Andrew Gangestad who manages to make Mephistopheles and Pater Profundus sound as if they were being portrayed by different singers. He is especially impressive in the Midnight scene of Part 2, as is Jaakko Kortekangas who plays Faust. Kortekangas is also good in his other roles of Doctor Marianus and Pater Seraphicus. I was not especially impressed by the choral work on this recording, but the Warsaw Philharmonic displays a great range of emotion in their performance and Antoni Wit has complete and sometimes inspired control over all his forces.

There are a number of fine recordings of this work, including those by Boulez, Abbado and Britten, as well as the recording by Klee, notable for its singers (see review). Overall, the present recording may not be up to some of these others, but it does have committed performances by the soloists and excellent orchestral playing to recommend it.

William Kreindler

A committed and dramatic performance of one of Schumann’s greatest choral works.