Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A Minor Op. 54 (1841-45) [33:07]
Konzertstück Op. 92 in G Major (Introduzione ed Allegro Appassionato) (1849) [16:52]
Songs: Schön Hedwig * Op. 106 (‘Fair Hedwig’) (1849) [5:35]; Zwei Balladen * Op. 122 (1852): No. 1 Vom Heideknaben (‘The Moorland Boy’) [5:12]; No. 2 Die Flüchtlinge (‘The Fugitives’) [3:10]
Daniel Levy (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
rec. Abbey Road Studios, London, 1998
EDELWEISS EDEM 3374 [64:10]

Daniel Levy is a meticulous pianist totally dedicated to his art. He brings deep thought, deliberation and interpretative values to his performances and recordings. His recordings are published under his own label, Edelweiss, allowing him artistic choice over venues and technical support. This independence gives him the freedom to put together unusual, imaginative and intelligent programmes such as this. His reading of the oft performed and recorded Schumann Piano Concerto is no exception. This is a thoughtful, probing reading. Levy makes the work sing, alternating joy and assertiveness with moving sadness and melancholy. Levy’s poised Allegro affettuoso opening flows at a leisurely pace and is unaffectedly poetic. The short Intermezzo is nicely playful in its sunlit passages before gently wistful meanderings. The Allegro vivace finale progresses firmly and eloquently with Schumann’s demanding high-lying piano passage-work splendidly wrought. The shorter one-movement Konzertstück also impresses allowing Levy full rein for his quick-and-strong-fingered virtuosity. Fischer-Dieskau, as conductor, provides sturdy support and encourages some gorgeous horn solo work.

Since his retirement, from singing, in 1992, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b. 1925) has been given the opportunity to display other sides of his remarkable talents. For the concerto he provides sterling and sensitive accompaniments and that for the finale is especially cogent.

At his peak, Fischer-Dieskau was greatly admired for his interpretive insights and exceptional control of his beautiful voice. He has also performed and recorded a great many operatic roles. The most recorded singer of all time, he was at the peak of his profession on both operatic stage and concert platform for over thirty years. His interpretations of Schumann Lieder have been acclaimed by audiences around the world. He has recorded Schumann’s Dichterliebe, Liederkreis, and the complete lieder for male voice, with Christoph Eschenbach on Deutsche Grammophon and Schumann’s Liederkreis, with Gerald Moore on EMI. Thus he has a very considerable insight into the Lieder of Robert Schumann.

I think it was Stephen Varcoe, who lecturing at an English Song Weekend a few years ago, suggested that music academies should encourage singers to study lieder, chansons and art songs in depth: their structure, flow, metre and rhythms. Just as importantly, they should also study the song’s texts, appreciating their natural musicality and their meaning obvious and possibly hidden. Incidentally he also suggested that audiences would derive added pleasure if they made a similar study of the texts.

Thus the very experienced and knowledgeable Fischer-Dieskau brings a heightened sensitivity to his Schumann declamations supported by Levy at the piano. Levy grandly, regally introduces Schön Hedwig as the knight - ‘so young and bold; His dark eyes shine with a fiery glint; As though on battle he were bent. And his cheeks are all aglow.” The hero knight is approached by the gentle Fair Hedwig and at once the music softens as she fills his glass with wine. The knight asks where she has come from, where she is going and why she seems to be always following him. Impressed with her answers, he then asks her if she loves him; the maiden demurely assents and the gathering is summoned to their nuptials. The dialogue between Hedwig and her knight is nicely, dramatically pitched, Fischer-Dieskau colouring his voice according to the two characters’ lines and changing emotions. One gets the impression that a lieder environment is somehow expanding to a staging of an operatic scene. Vom Heideknaben (‘The Moorland Boy’) is the first of the dire Gothic Op. 106, Two Ballads written in the same year as the Konzertstück. The Moorland Boy’s story is a horror narrative, not unlike like Schubert’s Erlkönig. Again Fischer-Dieskau mounts an operatic stage, putting on a weak pleading voice for the Moorland Boy who has been shaken by a terrible dream in which he foresees his death in the forest. He also finds a gruff disbelieving manner for the boy’s brutal, disbelieving master who insists that the boy makes the journey to take money to complete a transaction. A wily delivery is reserved for the shepherd’s lad who, the young terrified boy recognises as his assailant from his nightmare. All the while both piano and voice bestow a creepy atmosphere especially in the misty woodlands scene of the murder. In similar vein is the other song of Op. 106, Die Flüchtlinge (‘The Fugitives’) to a text by Shelley. Fischer-Dieskau and Levy join to present a blood-curdling picture of the most violent of storms raging over land and sea. Clinging together in a small, wildly tossed boat is a young couple eloping from the ire of the girl’s father. It seems even more threatening than the ravages of the storm. His anger precipitates tragedy as the storm claims its victims.

An unusual and imaginative Schumann programme presented with imposing interpretative flair.

Ian Lace

Unusual and imaginative … imposing interpretative flair.