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Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden
Johannes BRAHMS (1883-1897)
Deutsche Volkslieder
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Liederkreis, Op. 24
Werner Güra (tenor)
Christoph Berner (piano)
rec. November 2003, Reitstadel, Neumarkt Oberpfalz
Contents list at end of review

This recital was one of the discs that helped to make Werner Güra’s name when it was first released. It reappears here as part of the Harmonia Mundi’s budget Gold label, and it’s very welcome, with one major reservation that I’ll come to later. Güra's voice sounds a little smaller, even a little pinched in comparison with the golden tenor we have become used to recently. However, his credentials as a lieder singer are still second to none and he displays them very well here. His voice has a golden, burnished quality, always to the front rather than ever recessed. That works very well for these songs, which are right in the middle of his typical repertoire field.

The album traces the relationship between Brahms and the Schumanns and gives us lieder from all three. It doesn’t analyse too deeply, though, and there is little beyond the — capably researched and amply illustrated — booklet notes to explore the theme. No connection is ever suggested between the songs themselves, and they are presented pretty straight with no suggestion of a link.

There is a folksy sweetness to the Brahms songs. Güra is lusty and hearty for Sagt mir, o schönste Schäf'rin but gently wistful in Da unten im Tale and Es steht ein Lind. These songs work through their naivety and the unchanging simplicity of their vocal line, so the piano accompaniment of Christoph Berner is even important than normal, especially in the simple strophic numbers. He is especially good in songs like Jungfräulein, sill ich mit euch gehen and Feinsliebchen, where it is the piano that propels the song along, much more than the vocal line. He uses a pianoforte contemporary to the time of Brahms and, while I’d be lying if I said it made a major impression on me, its mellow sweetness does help to ground the songs in a sound their creator would have recognised.

Clara's songs make a beautiful collection. The Rückert settings that open the set are superb, complex works. The piano line may be rather dominant in Er ist gekommen, reflecting Clara's piano background, but that doesn't diminish the strength of her achievement and I found that the complexity of the piano line fits well in juxtaposition with the more simple vocal line. There is a disarming simplicity to songs like Geheimes Flüstern hier und dort or Ich stand in dunkeln Träumen, and a sparky lightness to Was weinst du, Blümlein. The set is well chosen to point up how great a composer Clara was in her own right and to show how she deserves to emerge from her husband's shadow, or to confirm that that process, having how begun, needs to continue.

Schumann’s Op. 24 Liederkreis is also given a performance of subtlety and sensitivity. The title song, in particular, is as mellifluous and tender as I’ve ever heard it, as is the lovely Berg und Burgen schau'n herunter, and Anfangs wollt' ich fast verzagen comes across as the cycle’s deepest point of thoughtfulness, so that I almost wished that they hadn’t bothered with Mit Myrthen und Rosen, which seemed a little trite in comparison.

There is a lot to welcome here, then, and the budget price should encourage many to explore. However the major flaw is that the song texts are given in German only, with no translation. That’s a real pity when the rest of the booklet is so good, and it strikes me as doubly unnecessary for that reason. So while it sounds great, I fear that the lack of translations may be a turn-off – perhaps a fatal one – for anyone who doesn’t read German.

Simon Thompson

Contents List
Brahms: Deutsche Volkslieder WoO 33
Sagt mir, o schönste Schäf'rin mein [2:58]
Die Sonne scheint nicht mehr [1:12]
Da unten im Tale [1:50]
Es steht ein Lind [2:12]
Jungfräulein, soll ich mit euch gehn [2:20]
Feinsliebchen, du sollst nicht barfuß gehn [2:37]
Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund [1:43]
Schwesterlein [2:39]
Es reit ein Herr [4:21]
In stiller Nacht [2:59]

Clara Schumann: Lieder
Er ist gekommen (Friedrich Rückert) [2:19]
Warum willst du and're fragen (Friedrich Rückert) [2:11]
Geheimes Flüstern hier und dort (Hermann Rollett) [3:26]
Ich stand in dunkeln Träumen (Heinrich Heine) [2:11]
Sie liebten sich beide (Heinrich Heine) [1:28]
Was weinst du, Blümlein (Hermann Rollett) [1:30]
Das ist ein Tag, der klingen mag (Hermann Rollett) [1:08]

Robert Schumann: Liederkreis op.24 (Heinrich Heine)
Morgens steh'ich auf [1:04]
Es treibt mich hin [1:09]
Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen [3:11]
Lieb' Liebchen [1:14]
Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden [3:42]
Warte, warte, wilder Schiffsmann [1:39]
Berg' und Burgen schau'n herunter [3:21]
Anfangs wollt' ich fast verzagen [1:00]
Mit Myrten und Rosen [3:39]