Schumann Dichterliebe and other Heine settings
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. This is a Dichterliebe firmly in the past tense, the poet-lover achingly resigned from the outset. Finley sings the second song, “Aus meinen Tränen”, as if in a trance, and lingers luxuriantly, even masochistically, over the remembered “Ich liebe dich” in “Wenn ich’ in deine Augen seh’”. Yet here and elsewhere some dangerously slow tempi are vindicated by the acuity of his verbal and musical responses. Where most singers, including Christopher Maltman in his fine performance with Graham Johnson (Hyperion, 5/01), end “Im Rhein” in wistful tenderness, Finley infuses his final words with a wry bitterness. The disenchantment of “Ich grolle nicht” (where Drake evokes Cologne Cathedral with a hieratic depth of sonority) is already glimpsed. In the cycle’s latter stages Finley veers between numb reverie and acerbic – and authentically Heine-esque – self-dramatisation. The birds’ assuaging response in “Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen” is magical, barely breathed, the mounting trauma of the funereal dream-song “Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet” chillingly conveyed, the dissolving vision of the penultimate “Aus alten Märchen” relived with ineffable sadness. Adding a cutting edge to his warm, mahogany baritone, Finley imbues the final song with savage irony, before the rueful, healing close. Throughout, Drake’s playing is a model of clarity and acutely observed detail (he is more attentive than most to bass-lines), epitomised in his fluid, exquisitely voiced epilogue.
Singer and pianist are just as compelling in the other Heine settings here. Finley is eerily insinuating in “Mein Wagen rollet langsam” – one of four Dichterliebe discards – where Schumann’s music is in danger of sounding too ingenuous for Heine’s sinister verses; and he and Drake throw themselves into “Lehn’ deine Wang’” with an impulsive ardour I’ve never heard equalled. Finley times and colours the biblical ballad “Belsatzar” with the art of a master dramatist, gives an uncommonly – and effectively – introspective reading of “Die beiden Grenadiere” (even the opening is hushed and anxious), and spins a rapt, dulcet line in the two “flower songs”, “Die Lotosblume” and “Du bist wie eine Blume”. The church acoustic is more resonant than I find ideal for Lieder, though that hardly detracts from a glorious Schumann recital.