SCHUMANN Adventlied. Ballade vom Pagen und der Königstochter
Schumann lightly reorchestrated one of Bach’s most affective cantatas in 1849 for a Dresden choral society of his own foundation. The arrangement appears never to have made it past the rehearsal stage, unlike his more radically Romantic treatment of the St John Passion. There is some discreet beefing up of choral textures with instrumental doublings but Schumann reserved his most telling intervention for the ever-stopped-clock beauty of the soprano aria ‘Wie zittern und wanken’, where he substituted Bach’s obbligato oboe for a more lambent clarinet.
These performances by a Finnish period instrument ensemble are lively and polished enough, though there’s nothing especially ‘period’ about either the choral forces involved (a fraction the size of those envisaged by Schumann, and unfavourably recessed in this studio recording) or the anachronistic casting of Benno Schachtner’s piercing countertenor. His narrative role assumes undue prominence in the Ballade vom Pagen und der Konigstöchter, written late in 1852 (just over a year before his fateful suicide attempt), though a louring, eerie tone is not altogether out of place in this fascinating precursor to Mahler’s Das klagende Lied, where a murder is similarly exposed at a royal court by means of a ‘singing’ flute.
Aapo Häkkinen usefully pulls back at the cantata’s moment of awful revelation where previous recordings have heedlessly pressed on, and with a sensitivity to mood and textual rhetoric that would have served him well in some rather briskly dispatched movements of the Bach. No such comparisons are available for the Adventlied that here receives, somewhat extraordinarily, a first recording. ‘Peace on earth and goodwill to all men’ is the message of Rückert’s cosy fireside poem; and shortly before Christmas 1848 Schumann followed suit in a pleasantly flowing, not especially memorable idiom pieced together from neo-Baroque gestures and counterpoint. Like the performances themselves, it’s something of a stylistic salad, but attractive nonetheless and probably an essential acquisition for Schumann admirers.