Schumann Dichterliebe & Kerner-Lieder

Author: 
John Steane

Schumann Dichterliebe & Kerner-Lieder

  • Dichterliebe
  • (12) Gedichte
  • Myrthen, No. 2, Freisinn (wds. Goethe)
  • Myrthen, No. 8, Talismane (wds. Goethe)
  • Myrthen, No. 17, Venetianische Lied I (wds. Moore, trans. Freiligrath)
  • Myrthen, No. 18, Venetianische Lied II (wds. Moore, trans. Freiligrath)
  • Lieder-Album für die Jugend, Schneeglöckchen (wds. Rückert)
  • Lieder-Album für die Jugend, No. 22, Des Sennen Abschied (wds. Schiller)
  • (6) Gedichte, No. 2, Ständchen
  • Liederkreis
  • Spanisches Liederspiel, No. 6, Melancholie (S)
  • Spanisches Liederspiel, Geständis (T)
  • Spanisches Liederspiel, Der Kontrabandiste (Bar)
  • Lieder-Album für die Jugend, Zigeunerliedchen (wds. Geibel)
  • Spanische Liebeslieder, Tief im Herzen trag ich Pein (S)
  • Spanische Liebeslieder, O wie lieblich ist das Mädchen (T)
  • Spanische Liebeslieder, Flutenreicher Ebro, 'Romanze' (bar)
  • Spanische Liebeslieder, Weh, wie zornig ist das Mädchen (T)
  • Lieder und Gesänge II, No. 1, Sehnsucht (wds. Geibel)
  • (3) Gedichte, Der Hidalgo
  • Myrthen, No. 1, Widmung (wds. Rückert)
  • Myrthen, No. 3, Der Nussbaum (wds. Mosen)
  • Myrthen, No. 5, Lied aus dem Schenkenbuch im Divan I (wds. Goethe)
  • Myrthen, No. 6, Lied aus dem Schenkenbuch im Divan II (wds. Goethe)
  • Myrthen, No. 7, Die Lotosblume (wds. Heine)
  • Myrthen, No. 15, Aus den hebräischen Gesängen (wds. Byron, trans. Körner)
  • Myrthen, No. 21, Was will die einsame Träne? (wds. Heine)
  • Myrthen, No. 24, Du bist wie eine Blume (wds. Heine)
  • Myrthen, No. 26, Zum Schluss (wds. Rückert)
  • Romanzen und Balladen II, No. 1, Die beiden Grenadiere (wds. Heine)
  • Romanzen und Balladen II, No. 2, Die feindlichen Brüder (wds. Heine)
  • Romanzen und Balladen I, No. 3, Abends am Strand (wds. Heine)
  • Minnespiel, No. 4, Mein schöner Stern! (T)
  • (4) Gesänge, No. 4, Mein Wagen rollet langsam (wds. Heine)

It is possible (though I don't quite see how) to love Fischer-Dieskau's records and not particularly want to play them. There must be some fault in the logic of that, you might think, but it is true of myself and may well be of others. It's a bit like reading Joseph Conrad: I admire and enjoy him when I start and yet it is a good many years since I last started. Why it should be so with Fischer-Dieskau may have to do with the very fact that his 75th birthday can be celebrated in such a way - 21 volumes of him, and those merely a selection of his recordings for one company. There is nothing like perpetual and plentiful availability for encouraging the thief of time. 'Tomorrow, 'one says. But, if so, can one really talk of 'love'? And if not, how come that each of these seven discs before me now has quickened the heart as though to greet an old love, the potency of which is attested by recognition and renewed discovery?
The very first minutes of the first track of the first disc show it to be so. An die ferne Geliebte straightway warms the heart and dispels any notion that Fischer-Dieskau's 'intellectualism' comes between the listener and the song. As it happened, I had not long before been listening to a Beethoven recital by Peter Schreier in which the cycle had been sung as it were by Florestan, a man in the extremity of emotional tension. Fischer-Dieskau is more moderate, less conceptualised, more responsive to the prevailing major tonality and no less subtle or moving therefore. Beautiful, for instance, is the way in which the saddened end of No 3 ('meine Tranen ohne Zahl') leads blissfully into No 4 ('Diese Wolken in den Hohen'). And the other delightful reassurance of this recital comes with the quality of his voice, surely at its best around this time, in the mid-1960s.
These records are also the fine product of a particularly fruitful collaboration. Jorg Demus has a touch, a refinement of tone, that distinguishes him as a pianist in his own right; but, more important here, he is a genuine, listening accompanist. In the Beethoven recital, Sehnsucht (Op 83) is a good example of the understanding between singer and pianist; in the Schumann discs, the Byron setting from Hebrew Melodies (Aus den hebraischen Gesangen) and 'Zu Augsburg steht ein hohes Haus' (Stirb, Lieb und Freud) with its subdued carillon, expertly balanced, are similarly impressive. Rather in the same style, Ihr Glocken von Marling has the bells magically distanced, a lovely example of Demus's work in the Liszt recital. When Barenboim takes over and the year of recording advances to 1981 the continuity is surprising (a wonderful delicacy, for instance, in Hohe Liebe and the rippling Im Rhein, Liszt's being so very different from Schumann's setting). But the pervasive flavour in these present records is of Demus, and I find it very much to my taste.
The pianist of the Wolf-Morike recital is Sviatoslav Richter, to whom fall some of the most fearsome virtuoso 'accompaniments', which, with the resounding celebrity of his name, should convince even the most singer-orientated of listeners that the two performers in such songs are of equal importance. Not that Richter necessarily plays his part better than would the regular 'accompanists': he hardly starts out on the Fussreise with the jaunty step of one who has been on this journey many times and in good company. Yet mostly the partnership is genuine and sometimes inspired, as in In der Fruhe and Im Fruhling, where Fischer-Dieskau communicates so eloquently that the yearning hardly needs words to express it, and where Richter's musing interlude seems to carry its own text.
Out of the seven discs, however, this would not be first choice. I'd come back to the two Schumanns, particularly to the Heine Liederkreis (463 506-2GFD), each song bringing a special delight (as the dream creeps into the heart in No 3, or the carpenter in the background of No 4 hammers home the coffin-nails). Or there is the Brahms to consider, with the Vier ernste Gesange passing all the tests, including real (not just formal) sensitivity to the meltingly beautiful change to major key in No 3. Fine, too, in similar mode, is Herbstgefuhl, and, contrastingly, the rich outcome of Alte Liebe. But if restricted to a single choice it might well be the Liszt. This brings many wonders (the breadth, smoothness and affection, for example, of Oh, quand je dors) ; but almost worth the price of the whole disc are the three Petrarch sonnets. If we find a new Fischer-Dieskau here, perhaps it is because he has drunk deep of the liberating language. 'Tanta dolcezza avea pien d'aer e 'l vento' he sings in the last line, and we feel that the dolcezza and the passione too have never been more potent. It seems strange that at the end of this journey through the realm of German song with a supreme master we should choose by way of a souvenir something so very unGermanic. But perhaps it is no more surprising than that we do not play some record or other of Fischer-Dieskau's every day of every year, considering that they are so good and that there are so many of them.
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