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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Heine Songs, Romances and Ballads
Tragödie Op. 6 No. 3 (1841 or earlier)[3:40]
Die beiden Grenadiere Op. 49 No. 1 (1840) [3:54]
Abends am Strand Op. 45 No. 3 (ca 1840) [3:25]
Die feindlichen Brüder Op. 49 No. 2 (1840) [2:27]
Der arme Peter Op. 53 No. 3 (1840) [5:00]
Belsatzar Op. 57 (1840) [4:56]
From Myrthen Op. 25 (1840)
Die Lotosblume Op. 25 No. 7 [1:52]
Was will die einsame Träne? Op. 25 No. 21 [2:06]
Du bist wie eine Blume Op. 25 No. 24 [1:57]
Songs originally conceived for Dichterliebe
Lehn’ deine Wang’ an meine Wang’ Op. 142 No. 2 (1840) [0:46]
Es leuchtet meine Liebe Op. 127 No. 3 (1840) [1:52]
Dein Angesicht so lieb und schön Op. 127 No. 2 (1840) [2:20]
Mein Wagen rollet Langsam Op. 142 No. 4 (1840) [3:20]
Dichterliebe Op. 48 (1840) [31:47]
Gerald Finley (baritone)
Julius Drake (piano)
rec. October 2007, All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London
German texts and English translations included
HYPERION CDA67676 [70:09]

Experience Classicsonline

Although Hyperion have given us the complete lieder of Robert Schumann, with Graham Johnson as guide, this hasn’t prevented them from issuing this stand-alone recital from the exciting Canadian baritone, Gerald Finley. As will be evident from the track listing, all but one of the songs on his programme come from 1840, his annus mirabilis, during which he composed a copious number of songs and, of course, finally married his beloved Clara.
The chosen songs vary quite widely in scope and sentiment but to them all Finley brings his intelligence and his splendid vocal accomplishment. His voice is produced evenly throughout its compass; he has an enviably smooth legato and also abundant histrionic capabilities.
The legato capability is on display, for example, in the first couple of stanzas of ‘Abends am Strand’. It’s a strange song but Finley responds well to its varied moods. He’s also well suited to a rather different song, ‘Die beiden Grenadiere’. This put me in mind a bit of some of Mahler’s military offerings in Des Knaben Wunderhorn and in the last two verses Schumann employs the tune of the ‘Marseillaise’. Finley clearly relishes the ballad, ‘Belsatzar’, which relates the story of Belshazzar’s Feast, albeit rather less elaborately than Walton did. By contrast, he’s gently rapt in ‘Die Lotosblume’ and in ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’.
To be honest, I think there are a couple of songs which aren’t exactly out of Schumann’s top drawer. One such is ‘Die feindlichen Brüder’, which I find rather dull. I’m also somewhat underwhelmed by ’Der arme Peter’, a collection of three short, linked songs. The poetry seems a rather odd choice to set and only in the third item in the set, ‘Der arme Peter wankt vorbei’, a slow funeral march, does Schumann really hit anything like his top form.
No such reservations about Dichterliebe, but before that Finley lets us hear four songs originally composed for Dichterliebe but discarded before the collection was published in 1844. It would have been interesting to know where in the collection Schumann placed them but Richard Wigmore’s very good note is silent on this point. I particularly warmed to ‘Dein Angesicht so lieb und schön’, a beautiful setting which is serenely sung by Finley.
Dichterliebe itself receives a splendid performance and in this collection Finley has plenty of opportunity to display his expressive range. Thus his seamless legato is deployed in ‘Im wunderschönen Monat Mai’, where he’s supported by some delightfully delicate playing on the part of Julius Drake. By contrast the breathless enthusiasm of ‘Aus meinen Tränen sprießen’ comes across convincingly. The song is over in a flash – but it’s very well articulated. Wind forward to ‘Ich grolle nicht’ where Finley’s voice has all the grandeur and amplitude you could wish for. Then immediately he lightens his voice most effectively for ‘Und wüssten’s die Blumen, die kleinen’.
A little further on there’s an evident twinkle in Finley’s eye as he tells the story in ’Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen’. The following song, ‘Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen’ is a gift for Finley’s honeyed legato. In this song he displays enviable technical control, as does Julius Drake. To end the performance Finley offers an imposing performance of ‘Die alten, bösen Lieder’ in which the lengthy piano postlude gives the admirable Drake one final opportunity to shine.
Dichterliebe presents many challenges to performers. One is that out of the sixteen songs only seven, in this performance anyway, last for more than two minutes. Thus there is precious little time for the performers to establish and convey the many different moods. It seems to me that Finley and Drake are completely successful in this respect. Indeed, both interpretatively and technically this Dichterliebe is on a very high level.
Besides offering very high performance standards the production values of this CD are up to Hyperion’s usual high standards. The sound is excellent – it’s odd that no recording venue is specified – as is the documentation. Gerald Finley is, surely, one of the finest baritones currently before the public and this admirable recital shows us why his stock is so high.

John Quinn






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