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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Liederkreis, Op. 24 (tx Heinrich Heine) [20:28]
Zwölf Gedichte von Justinus Kerner, Op. 35 [32:48]
Matthias Goerne (baritone)
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
rec. 2018, Teldex Studio, Berlin
Sung texts with French and English translations enclosed
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902353 [53:29]

This is a superb disc, uniting two performers at the top of their game and providing the most satisfying song recital I’ve come across in a very long time.

Both Mathias Goerne and Leif Ove Andsnes are established song performers but, as far as I can see, this is the first time they’ve recorded together. If so, it’s a match made in heaven because the symbiosis between the two performers is evident from the start. Take the way they partner one another in the opus 24 Liederkreis. The dynamic of Andsnes’ piano playing is perfectly shaded to match Goerne’s slightly breathless way with the lover’s anticipation of Morgens steh' ich auf, and the piano speeds up in the coda to represent the lover’s quickening heart at the approach of his beloved. There is a dreamy quality to Goerne’s voice for this opening song and, even more so, for the third song Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen, but that’s replaced with a driven, almost anguished quality for Es treibt mich hin, and there follows a beautiful balance of irony and tragedy in Lieb' Liebchen. Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden has all the narrative poetry of Schubert, and there is a well-judged sense of blithe irony to Mit Myrten und Rosen. Andsnes comes into his own in the bounding, mock-heroic piano line of Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann, but everywhere he is the model of sensitive responsiveness, such as the undulating lullaby of Berg' und Burgen schaun herunter or the focused seriousness of Anfangs wollt' ich fast verzagen, making him an ideal partner. You can just imagine the conversations they must have had while preparing this recital.

Even finer, however, is the set of the Kernerlieder, surely the most unjustly overlooked song cycle of the whole 19th century. (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau once claimed that helping to rehabilitate was one of the things he was most proud of in his career.) The pair seem to up their game in performing it, as though raised to higher things by the work itself. There are titanic, even Wagnerian levels of passion in the opening song and in Sehnsucht nach den Waldgegend, balanced by bucolic optimism in Erstes Grün, and this rises to titanic drama by the time he gets to Stille Tränen, which sounds like a miniature opera in less than four minutes.

I’m not so sure that the darker reaches of Goerne’s nutty baritone are a perfect fit for the unbridled hedonism of Wanderlust but, conversely, they’re perfectly suited to Auf das Trinkglas and Frage, as well as for the sensational final pair of songs, mirror images in almost every way, which spin out in a mood of barely suppressed anguish hiding behind a gorgeous veneer of art.

The highlight of the cycle, and perhaps the whole disc, comes with the great Stirb, Lieb' und Freud'. Goerne unfolds the narrative in a gentle, unhurried manner, all the while hinting at the deep devastation that the story of the young nun provokes in the poet, reducing his voice to a mere whisper for the moments that address the girl herself. Meanwhile Andsnes gives the piano line the feel of a tolling bell, generating both impetus and melancholy at the same time. While listening to it, I began to think that this was Schumann’s single greatest song, in perhaps its single greatest performance, and I don’t think I’ve changed my mind since.

Goerne’s pedigree as a lieder singer is beyond dispute, and all of his finest attributes are on display here. Every note is deeply felt, every syllable carefully considered, and it’s married with the most sumptuous, ebony tone, making this a special listening experience which I will repeat often. He’s lucky to be partnered with a gold standard accompanist like Andsnes, whose playing matches the voice point for point. Whichever other collections of Schumann lieder you have, you’ll want to make room for this one, and if you don’t have the Kernerlieder then what are you waiting for? For the Kernerlieder alone, this has to be one of my discs of the year.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Göran Forsling

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