Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Dichterliebe, Op. 48 [27:42]
6 Gedichte von N. Lenau und Requiem, Op. 90 [17:10]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
5 Gedichte für eine Frauenstimme, WWV 91 (Wesendonck-Lieder) [18:29]
Christoph Prégardien (tenor)
Michael Gees (piano)
rec. 2018, Galaxy Studio’s, Mol, Belgium
Sung texts enclosed but no translations
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72788 SACD [63:36]
Only a few months ago I had for review a 2-CD-set with Prégardien singing Schumann, Wolf and Mahler, recorded a dozen years ago. Hearing him on this brand new disc one can only marvel at the consistency of his music making and the timelessness of his vocal armoury. The singing is so nuanced, so expressive and so beautiful – only he has to work a little harder. Last year he reportedly issued a disc where he was designated as baritone, here he isn’t designated at all, and honestly I can’t hear much difference in pitch or timbre from his younger self. If there is a difference at all, it has to do with the lower part of his register, where the timbre is darker and fuller. In songs like Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome and Ich grolle nicht, both from Dichterliebe, this pays dividends. He has undoubtedly plenty of power at his disposal. The two concluding songs of Dichterliebe have also gained in power. Aus alten Märchen is youthfully exuberant, while Die alten, bösen Lieder has a noble dignity. But the more lyrical songs are performed with the same sensitivity we have come to expect from him. I would like to mention especially the deeply felt Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet. This song goes directly to the heart. But everything in this cycle is as perfect as one could ever expect to hear. I have lost count on how many recordings of Dichterliebe I have, but this is definitely among the top contenders.
Dichterliebe is of course standard fare, Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder far from that – at least sung by male singers. René Kollo recorded the songs back in 1992 – a bit too late to catch him in mint condition – and quite recently two other Wagner tenors, Stuart Skelton and Simon O’Neill, also ventured into this soprano abode. Kollo and Skelton sing the orchestral version in Mottl’s arrangements, while O’Neill sings the original version with piano accompaniments, which means that his is the recording that Prégardien is up against for direct comparison. While I found O’Neill’s readings of the Wagner songs better than many of the other songs on his recital, I think Prégardien is a much more natural interpreter and his voice is so much more beautiful. His singing is so refreshingly open-eyed and clear-sighted in the songs which sometimes can be cloying, in particular in the orchestral version. They certainly describe a dreamscape and he doesn’t underplay that, but I believe that a male voice comes closer to the earth, whereas a soprano approaches the heavenly realms and thus can be felt as more alienated. Prégardien’s Schmerzen is sung with a glow that is quite irresistible while Träume is so impassioned that at least one listener is completely overwhelmed. But all five are wonderfully sung and this version will from now on be one of my favourite recordings of the work, irrespective of voice category. Truly impressive!
Lenau’s six poems and Requiem almost feel like an anti-climax after Wagner. They may not be Schumann at his most inspired but are still valuable, and Meine Rose has long been a favourite ever since I bought Gerard Souzay’s recording, coupled with Dichterliebe, back in the 1960s. This particular song also is extra ennobled through Prégardien’s sensitive care over nuances. The rest of the songs are performed with all his considerable care and the concluding Requiem has the right amount of intensity.
Michael Gees, who has been a regular duo-partner to Prégardien for many years, is also a strong contributor to the eminent quality of this issue. Full marks!