Michaela Schuster: Morgen!
The German mezzo Michaela Schuster is best known as an operatic animal, with a repertoire that includes big-hitting Wagner and Strauss roles. This recital from the Eppaner Liedsommer (recorded live, we are told, but without the slightest peep from the audience) shows a different side to her artistry, as well as displaying some pros and cons resulting from her stage career. The voice itself is remarkably powerful but hardly caressing on the ear; it takes quite a few breaths to keep nourished and at lower volumes is less than ideally steady. It’s a sort of voice that we don’t often hear on disc in song these days. Which is a shame, because Schuster is an instinctive artist and the interpretations themselves are wonderful. As a native speaker, her way with the German is totally natural and she inhabits the poetry completely. This often translates into musical performances of compelling sensitivity and moving intensity, while she is also able to turn on the folkish charm in Brahms’s ‘Da unten im Tale’ or in a melting ‘Wiegenlied’.
The programme itself is a fascinating mixture of the well and less well known, with each of the four composer-led groups covering, roughly, a trajectory from optimism to melancholy or liveliness to sleep; the Reger songs are especially well chosen and show him as very much capable of holding his head high in this exalted company. Although Schuster is excellent in the excited expressions of first love – her ‘Widmung’, for example, is urgent, her ‘Aufträge’ ardently impatient – she is perhaps at her best in the more thoughtful and fateful numbers, where Markus Schlemmer, a sensitive accompanist throughout, cleverly emphasises his piano’s lower range. Schumann’s ‘Der schwere Abend’ and ‘Requiem’ take on a powerful gravitas, as do Reger’s ‘Totensprache’ and Strauss’s ‘Ruhe, meine Seele!’. In ‘Befreit’ Schuster lacks the supreme control of, say, a Jessye Norman and needs a pause ahead of the song’s final, climactic ‘weinen’, but it is a deeply affecting performance which, like that of ‘Morgen’ itself, is suffused with just the right sense of gentle sadness.
It’s a shame that Oehms fails to provide translations to accompany the texts in the booklet, but don’t let that put you off this moving and rewarding recital.