Gerald Finley and Julius Drake have already made an outstanding recording of Schumann’s Dichterliebe
(CDA67676). Now they follow it up with equally fine accounts of both sets of Liederkreis.
All the items contained on this disc were composed during 1840, Schumann’s Liederjahr
, when he composed some 140 songs. Prior to then songs had not featured too largely in his portfolio and it is remarkable that, even with the stimulus of imminent marriage to Clara and then the marriage itself, so many songs, many of them of the highest quality, should have flowed from his pen in, relatively speaking, so short a period of time. It is as if a creative dam had burst.
The six songs that constitute Op. 36 can’t really be classed among those of highest quality. The chief reason for this must surely lie in the texts. For the Liederkreis
sets Schumann turned to Heine (Op. 24) and Eichendorff (Op. 39). Robert Reinick (1805-1852), the poet of Op. 36, simply isn’t in the same league as a poet and I think it’s fair to conjecture that his lines didn’t really fire Schumann’s imagination. So why did he make the settings? Well, as Richard Wigmore points out in his valuable notes, part of the reason for Schumann’s outburst of creativity in 1840 was a need to earn some money and it was fairly easy to get songs published. So perhaps, with Clara to support, a ‘dash for cash’ explains these Reinick settings. Richard Wigmore puts it rather well when he talks of the poems having a “Biedermeier mix of sentimentality, piety and patriotism …
[that].. tap into Schumann’s most homely vein.” I’m afraid I found them pretty ordinary, despite the musicianship of Gerald Finley and Julius Drake. The music of the final song, ‘Liebesbotschaft’, is on a rather deeper level of expression. It’s the best of the group and Finley sings it eloquently.
However, the two sets of Liederkreis
are on an altogether different plane. The poems offer far greater possibilities for one thing and they draw from Schumann some very fine music. The Heine set (op. 24) includes ‘Es treibt mich hin’ which is full of ardour and the poet’s eagerness to be with his beloved. Finley responds with urgent singing, though his urgency never causes him to sacrifice the integrity of the vocal line. He’s just as impressive in ‘Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen’, though the song calls for a very different approach. Here the mood is melancholic and Finley is very expressive, using vocal colouring to excellent effect. ‘Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann’ is turbulent and passionate and both singer and pianist give strong performances. Then, however, in the very next song, ‘Berg’ und Burgen schaun herunter’ we find them switching their approach adeptly for this gentle, smooth song, giving it a winning reading.
The Eichendorff Liederkreis
settings (Op. 39) were composed in May 1840, just three months after the Heine set. This was the same month that saw the creation of Dichterliebe
. Richard Wigmore quotes from a letter that Robert wrote to Clara about this collection of songs, telling her that it contains ‘my most romantic music ever, with much of you in it’. The rich, full-toned masculinity of Finley’s voice is ideal for this repertoire and his reading is very fine and convincing. He deploys some powerful tone in the third song, ‘Waldesgespräch’ and immediately afterwards switches to a more delicate timbre for ‘Die Stille’. I greatly admire the hypnotic quality he brings to the first two stanzas of ‘Mondnacht’, opening up a bit – quite rightly – for the third stanza. Here, as so often on this disc, Julius Drake matches Finley’s sensitivity completely. ‘Auf einer Burg’ is a rather remarkable song and it receives a splendid performance here. Finley, matched by Drake, is withdrawn in his delivery, distilling an unworldly atmosphere that is quietly potent, not least at the end when we hear of the tears of the young bride. ‘Wehmut’ is beautifully done; Finley is completely successful in conveying the melancholy of the title. ‘Frühlingsnacht’ makes a rapturous conclusion to the collection and a very satisfying end to a splendid performance.
This fine disc is a worthy successor to the earlier Schumann disc from these excellent artists. Finley’s singing is out of the top drawer. He has a wide range of tonal colour, which he uses most imaginatively and the sheer sound of his voice consistently gives great pleasure. On top of that, his diction is immaculate and he displays a fine feeling for and understanding of the words. At all times Julius Drake is an ideal partner and his contribution to the success of the performances is significant. I enjoyed listening to this disc very much. The standards of documentation and sound are as high as you’d expect from a Hyperion release. Gerald Finley is one of the outstanding singers of his generation and this disc is an excellent example of his artistry.