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Hyperion Records

CDA67676 - Schumann: Dichterliebe & other Heine Settings
Two Men Contemplating the Moon (c1819/20) by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden, Germany / © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Recording details: October 2007
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: September 2008
Total duration: 69 minutes 5 seconds


'In close collusion with the ever-sentient Julius Drake, Gerald Finley gives one of the most beautifully sung and intensely experienced performances on disc of Schumann's cycle of rapture, disillusion and tender regret … a glorious Schumann recital' (Gramophone)

'From the very start, the fingers of Julius Drake seem to be waking both Finley's baritone and the music itself from a long distant dream … this is a performance of a heavy and irreparably broken heart … Finley's performance gives huge pleasure and insight' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Gerald Finley's burnished baritone is one of the most beautiful voices to have recorded the cycle … a glorious Schumann recital from a singer and pianist in true, symbiotic partnership' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Drake's accompaniment, so important in the long, often ironic or restorative postludes to many of these songs, scarcely falters, and always sustains with senstivity Finley's bold and unaffected singing' (International Record Review)

'[Finley] is in his prime. He brings eloquence to the text and maturity to his interpretations … an outstanding disc' (The Sunday Times)

'Acclaimed baritone Gerald Finley is both intelligent and gripping, and sings with a tone that has never sounded more luxurious. With in-the-moment honesty, he brings passion, longing, terror, love and bitterness to his interpretations, without ever losing sight of his overall emotional journey. Accompanist Julius Drake partners him with a superb sense of drama and detail' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Finley wraps his handsome baritone round Schumann's lines in a way that takes you beyond the artistry to an inner emotional world … Finley and Drake take us on a journey that becomes more and more compelling with each song' (Financial Times)

'Dichterliebe itself receives a splendid performance and in this collection Finley has plenty of opportunity to display his expressive range. Thus his seamless legato is deployed in 'Im wunderschönen Monat Mai', where he's supported by some delightfully delicate playing on the part of Julius Drake. By contrast the breathless enthusiasm of 'Aus meinen Tränen spriessen' comes across convincingly. The song is over in a flash—but it's very well articulated. Wind forward to 'Ich grolle nicht' where Finley's voice has all the grandeur and amplitude you could wish for. Then immediately he lightens his voice most effectively for 'Und wüssten's die Blumen, die kleinen'' (MusicWeb International)

'The immaculately musical Canadian singer Gerald Finley never disappoints … it ranks among the best of recent versions out on disc, with flawlessly supporting playing from the pianist Julius Drake' (Hampstead and Highgate Express)

'Finley is an unforgettable communicator on a grand scale, as anyone who has seen him at one of his frequent Royal Opera appearances knows. But on this disc, he proves himself equally memorable in the more intimate arena of the Lieder recital. That his voice is luxuriously warm, even and smooth almost goes without saying … his in-the-moment honesty is matched note-for-note by pianist Julius Drake, who partners him with a superb sense of drama and detail. It's a recital which can stand comparison with the greatest Schumann recordings' (Metro)

Dichterliebe & other Heine Settings

Why another Dichterliebe recording? Because Gerald Finley has simply one of the greatest voices of his generation, and is an artist at the peak of his powers. He brings to this noble song cycle the supreme technical ability and penetrating musical understanding that characterize all his performances, whether on the concert platform, in the recording studio or on the great opera stages of the world. This is his fourth disc with collaborator Julius Drake, and the partnership has proved to be a uniquely rewarding one.

This fine recital also includes many of Schumann’s other Heine settings. The extremes of elation and despair in Heine’s poetry stimulated Schumann to write some of his most poignant and unforgettable songs. This is truly a disc to treasure.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Schumann was the most confessional of composers. Many of the Lieder from his great song year of 1840 were in essence love songs to Clara Wieck, to whom he had become secretly engaged just before her eighteenth birthday in September 1837. In them he could express overtly what had been merely implicit in his piano music: his fears and longing, his passion and devotion, his pain at their separation (her father was implacably opposed to their marriage), his vision of sexual and spiritual fulfilment, and his recurrent fears of losing her.

‘Oh Clara, what bliss it is to write songs. I can’t tell you how easy it has become for me … it is music of an entirely different kind which doesn’t have to pass through the fingers—far more melodious and direct.’ So wrote Schumann to his fiancée in February 1840. By the end of that month he had composed the Heine Liederkreis, Op 24, most of the Myrthen (‘Myrtles’) anthology and a dozen other songs. After a brief respite, Schumann’s creative euphoria continued into May, a truly miraculous month that produced arguably his two greatest cycles: the Eichendorff Liederkreis, Op 39—a sequence of Romantic night-pieces—and Dichterliebe, in which he again turned to the poetry of Heinrich Heine (1797–1856).

With their extremes of elation and despair and their mingled sentimentality, self-pity and ironic self-mockery, the epigrammatic poems of Heine’s Buch der Lieder (1827) struck an instinctive response from the highly strung Schumann, still anxiously awaiting the court’s permission to marry Clara in defiance of her father. The whole closely integrated cycle traces an inner narrative, from the initial awakening of love, through rapture, disillusion and despair to tender regret and a final bittersweet, ironic acceptance. Heine’s verses are a distillation of the poet’s ultimately doomed love for two of his cousins in Hamburg. For Schumann real life was to provide a happier outcome. Yet on one level Dichterliebe can be heard as his most piercing recreation of the fluctuating, often anguished, emotions he had experienced during his long courtship of Clara.

The opening song, Im wunderschönen Monat Mai, begins on a discord, continues with hazy, deliquescent harmonies and ends indeterminately: a musical image of unappeased longing, of desire ever unfulfilled and ever renewed. In several later songs the voice part likewise remains suspended: in Aus meinen Tränen sprießen (No 2), where the piano’s hesitant final cadence becomes the dominant of the third song, the gossamer Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne; in Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome (No 6), whose quasi-Baroque keyboard figuration, prompted by the Gothic majesty of Cologne cathedral, is transmuted into yearning lyricism as the scene moves inside the cathedral; and in Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen (No 9), where the piano imitates the scraping and skirling of a wedding band while evoking the poet’s jealous anguish in its abrasive harmonies and obsessive repetitions.

In Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet (No 13) the voice ends on the tonic note, but here harmonized as a dissonance: the dream of past happiness and the sense of loss on awakening are so overwhelming that the singer cannot resolve the song; and after a stunned silence the piano once more sounds its soft, ominous drumbeats. The previous song, Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen, echoes Im wunderschönen Monat Mai both in beginning with a nebulous arpeggio pattern and in leaving the vocal line unresolved. Here, though, resolution is provided by a musing postlude, where the piano introduces a new, yearning melody of its own. In one of Schumann’s most poignant strokes, this melody returns in the long postlude of the final song, after the singer’s last words are again suspended. This reminiscence—which surely had personal significance for Schumann, embodying his love for Clara—dissolves into passionate quasi-recitative before the tonality at last resolves and the cycle closes in tender resignation.

As originally planned, Dichterliebe was to contain twenty songs. But before publication in 1844 Schumann jettisoned four of them, sensing that they did not fit happily into this tightly knit cycle of memory, dream and desire, where one song often dissolves into the next. Fine as they are, the two sinister, phantasmagoric scenes—Es leuchtet meine Liebe and the hypnotically repetitive Mein Wagen rollet langsam jarred in their original context. The passionate melancholy of Lehn’ deine Wang’ an meine Wang’ is more direct and earthbound than anything in this most allusive of cycles. As for the other Dichterliebe discard, Dein Angesicht so lieb und schön, built on an unforgettable melody of chaste fervour, Eric Sams is surely right to suggest, in The Songs of Robert Schumann (Methuen, 1969), that the composer may well have been superstitious about including in the cycle a song to such ominous words, especially in the year of his wedding.

While virtually all Schumann’s Heine settings of 1840 are lyric miniatures, he also tried his hand at the dramatic ballad, a form cultivated most famously by the young Schubert and by Carl Loewe, a composer much admired by Schumann. Heine’s Die feindlichen Brüder is an over-the-top exercise in mock-medieval minstrelsy, and Schumann responds with a grim march in square, quasi-folk style, momentarily relieved by the tender love music evoked by Countess Laura’s ‘sparkling eyes’. In Die beiden Grenadiere, likewise set as a march, the stoical theme has an undertow of sorrow, with a suggestion of muffled drums in the accompaniment; the ‘Marseillaise’, vaguely suggested in the theme’s outline, erupts triumphantly near the end, before the keyboard postlude, with its bitter harmonies, sinks in exhaustion.

In the other ballad on this recording, Belsatzar, the poet pithily retells the familiar Old Testament story of Belshazzar’s drunken revelry and the writing on the wall. Schumann’s piano writing here is superbly atmospheric, charged with suppressed tension at the beginning, breaking into a brash, pompous march at ‘Die Knechte saßen in schimmernden Reihn’ and graphically depicting the king’s intoxicated lurching and stumbling. After the song’s climax the texture progressively thins; and Belshazzar’s death is recounted in bare, stunned recitative.

One of Schumann’s most picturesque Lieder, Abends am Strand (the shore in question is that of Hamburg) graphically evokes the serene, sybaritic lotus-worshippers (introduced by a delicious key change) and, in a rare comic touch in these Heine songs, the shrieking, howling Laplanders. Composed in that same spring of 1840, the Heine triptych Der arme Peter embodies two of Schumann’s recurrent fears: of losing Clara to another man, and of going insane. The opening ‘panel’ is a village wedding, evoked in a rustic waltz complete with hurdy-gurdy imitations. Peter, the sad onlooker in the first song, takes centre stage in the second, beginning in passionate despair and ending in weary, disconsolate loneliness. In the final song, Der arme Peter, the village girls mock Peter, stumbling towards his grave, in a lopsided, triple-time funeral march, with the keyboard bass imitating muffled drums.

In the winter of 1840–41 Schumann set another Heine trilogy, Tragödie, whose tale of doomed lovers is in direct antithesis to his own newly wedded bliss—though their furtive elopement will have evoked memories of a time when he and Clara had contemplated running away together and marrying in secret. The impulsive ardour of the opening song gives way to the bleak Es fiel ein Reif. Heine claimed that the poem was an actual German folksong, and Schumann sets it in aptly folk style, with the sparsest of accompaniments. The forlornly drooping keyboard ‘motto’ that frames each verse may remind listeners of the germinating theme of Schumann’s Piano Concerto. (Rather oddly, Schumann set the third part of the trilogy, Auf ihrem Grab da steht eine Linde, omitted from this recording, as a duet.)

Finally, three songs in this recital come from the collection Myrthen, which Schumann presented to Clara, in a handsomely bound volume, on the morning of their wedding in September 1840. Two are exquisite, justly famous flower songs, whose imagery becomes a metaphor for Clara: the delicately erotic Die Lotosblume, which slips magically into a luminous remote key to evoke the moonrise; and the reverential Du bist wie eine Blume, a rarefied bel canto aria. In contrast to these expressions of adoration, Was will die einsame Träne? Is a song of loneliness and loss—another reflection of Schumann’s own recurrent fears of losing Clara.

Richard Wigmore © 2008

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