Mendelssohn; Schumann; Wolf Eichendorff Lieder
In this, the duo’s latest CD (actually recorded more than three years ago), they tackle a long and fascinating programme of Eichendorff settings. Its centrepiece is Schumann’s Op 39 Liederkreis settings. Around that undoubted masterpiece, they place an eclectic choice running from two of Schumann’s near-contemporaries through to today’s representative, Aribert Reimann. The settings encompass every facet of the poet’s very varied styles and moods, and the music itself is almost as wide-ranging.
As ever, Wolfgang Holzmair and Imogen Cooper, unified in musical thought, bring alert minds and innate musicality to everything from the relatively simple manner of Mendelssohn, Franz, Korngold (a delightful song written when he was 14!) and Zemlinsky (the charming ‘Vor der Stadt’) right up to the etiolated yet complex world of Reimann.
Pfitzner’s relatively penny-plain settings pale beside those of his immediate predecessor, Hugo Wolf, who deliberately eschewed the Romantic side of the poet in favour of the quizzical, though Wolf couldn’t resist the sensuality of ‘Verschwiegene Liebe’, and set it in an utterly memorable way, one of those love songs once heard never forgotten. Its inspiration draws from the pair an exquisitely intimate reading. Schoeck’s ‘Nachruf’, which closes the disc, is almost in the same class, a welcome discovery.
Indeed intimacy is the talisman of most of their performances, a manner well-tailored to home listening. Everything is poised, natural and thought-through. There are other, more penetrating versions of the Schumann, but in the context of this programme, their approach works well enough, Holzmair’s plangent, typically Viennese timbre as ever aptly set off by Cooper’s discerningly apt playing, full of intelligent subtleties. The clear, keenly balanced recording is worthy of the participants’ achievement.