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Robert SCHUMANN (1810 -1856)
Romances, Ballads and Melodramas
Romanzen und Balladen, Book 2, Op. 49 (1840) [8:17]
2 Balladen, Op. 122 – No. 1 Ballade vom Haideknaben (1852-53) [6:07]
Romanzen und Balladen, Book 1, Op. 45 (1840) [8:59]
Zwei Balladen, Op. 122 – No. 2 Die Flüchtlinge (1852-53) [3:57]
Der Handschuh, Op. 87 (1850) [5:35]
5 Lieder, Op. 40 (1840) [10:40]
Schön Hedwig, Op. 106 (1849) [6:01]
3 Gesänge, Op. 31 – No. 3 Die rote Hanne (1840) [5:14]
4 Husarenlieder, Op. 117 (1851) [6:20]
Des Sängers Fluch, Op. 139 – No. 7 Ballade (version for voice and piano) (1852) [2:36]
Detlef Roth (baritone, narrator)
Ulrich Eisenlohr (piano)
Rec. 5-8 November 2018 at the SWR Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden, Germany.
The German sung texts and English translations can be accessed online.
NAXOS 8.574029 [64:36]

Browsing through the contents of this disc one hardly recognises a single title, apart from the very first song, from Romanzen und Balladen, Book 2, Op. 49, which opens the disc. It is on the other hand one of his most famous, Die beiden Grenadiere, the one about the two French soldiers, returning from captivity in Russia and now learn that France had been conquered in war and the Emperor captured. And they dream of again fighting for the beloved Emperor – and the music quotes La Marseillaise. ‘I have that song already in several versions, so why bother about this disc when the rest is unknown?’ There is one evident answer to that: ‘Because unknown Schumann is still worth anyone’s money, and half of the songs here are from 1840, Schumann’s Year of Song, when his inspiration flowed incessantly.’ To this can be added that also after 1840 he returned to the genre, and even though some of his later songs are not quite on the same level, several are.

A quick look at the songs vintage 1840 reveals that the companion pieces to GrenadiereDie feindlilichen Brüder and Die Nonne – are truly inspired melodies. This also goes for the three Romanzen und Balladen, Book 1, Op. 45: Der Schatzgräber, Frühlingsfahrt and Abends am Strande. Of them Frühlingsfahrt is especially stirring. It is actually one of the most captivating spring songs in the Lieder literature. The text is by Eichendorff, who has inspired several of the great song composers of the 19th century: Robert Franz, Hugo Wolf, Richard Strauss and of course Schumann, whose Liederkreis, Op. 39 is one of the great song cycles. Next in turn is 5 Lieder, Op. 40, where the first four are settings of Hans Christian Andersen. He was not only the great story teller, whose 156 fairy tales have been translated into more than 125 languages, but also an excellent poet. He wrote of course everything in Danish and the poems here have been translated into German by Adelbert von Chamisso, who also was an important poet in his own right. His cycle Frauenliebe und –leben (1830) was set to music by, among others, Schumann. The Andersen settings here are maybe not among Schumann’s most inspired, but Muttertraum is interesting as an early example of minimalism – not strictly in the Glass and Adams sphere but it stands out anyway. Der Soldat is rather martial in character, maybe a preliminary study for Die beiden Grenadiere. The last of the songs is by an anonymous author, and it is light and joyful. Finally Die rote Hanne, from 3 Gesänge Op. 31 to a text by von Chamisso, may not be quite in the top league.

If we leave the year 1840 we find Der Handschuh, Op. 87 from 1850, a setting of a long ballad from 1797 by Schiller. It is not frequently heard and to my mind it is not one of his best. I believe that the ballad format wasn’t Schumann’s true métier. Husarenlieder from the following year are brief and uncommonly outgoing for Schumann, and as conclusion of the disc we are treated to a nice (and short) Ballade from Des Sängers Fluch, a long ballad in 14 movements for voices, mixed chorus and orchestra from 1852. It was not published until 1858, two years after Schumann’s demise. Here it is performed in a version for voice and piano.

But the disc also contains three melodramas (tr. 4, 8 & 15), i.e. works for speaker with accompaniment. In stage works, operas and operettas, it occurs not infrequently – and then mainly with orchestral accompaniment – but for the concert stage with only piano accompaniment, it is a rare bird indeed. It requires a soloist with musicality and theatrical experience and a pianist who can conjure up the illustrative piano parts. Fortunately we have both capacities here. Detlef Roth, who is both multilingual and multitalented when it comes to stage appearances, is certainly expressive and charismatic – also without the visual aspects. Likewise Ulrich Eisenlohr at the grand has all the necessary means of expression at his disposal. Many readers, I am sure, are familiar with his all-embracing expertise in his field, being the mastermind behind Naxos’s mammoth Schubert project some 15 years ago, where he also was the accompanist on the majority of the discs. One of his singers then was Detlef Roth and his singing then was greatly to my liking. Regrettably his voice has lost some of its attractiveness. The tone is dryer, there are signs of wear and the vibrato sometimes overgenerous. Of course some listeners are more sensitive to such defects than others, so prospective buyers have to check where his/her personal pain threshold is. The expressivity he demonstrates in the three melodramas is however undiminished and his readings are generally excellent.

This may not be a disc for the general music lover who wants a collection of ‘Schumann’s Greatest Hits’; rather for the jaded collector who searches something by the side of the main road. But inquisitive listeners could also find interesting things here. Whichever category you belong to, my advice is: try before you buy!

Göran Forsling



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