domingo, 23 de julio de 2017

Marlis Petersen / Anke Vondung / Werner Güra / Konrad Jarnot / Christoph Berner / Camillo Radicke SCHUMANN Spanische Liebeslieder op. 138

The Liederspiel was an early 19th-century genre in which songs, often on well-known texts, were added into plays. Schumann revived the form in 1849 with the three works presented on this recording, but without including any dialogue. Each work requires a vocal quartet, but unlike Brahms’s much more familiar sets of Liebeslieder Waltzer , most of the musical numbers are solo songs or duets, with relatively few full-ensemble settings. The texts—10 translations apiece by Emanuel Geibel of 15th- and 16th-century Spanish love poetry in opp. 74 and 138, and eight Rückert love poems in op. 101—present no apparent narrative, but the perceptive Schumann biographer John Daverio points out the outline of a dramatic progression in op. 74 “from the first meeting of the lovers to the burgeoning of their love in the form of grief, from their fear that neither returns the other’s feelings to union in mutual bliss.”  
In the excellent booklet notes, Roman Hinke cites the “imitation of Spanish color” as a musical link between op. 74 and 138, but to my ear, Schumann’s attempts at capturing a Spanish musical flavor take the form of a few generically ethnic flourishes—a recurrence of minor keys, changing meters in op. 138’s piano interlude, occasional repeated chords that may signify guitar strumming—so subtle as to be an almost negligible element in the music. The baritone’s wild song “Der Contrabandiste,” included as an appendix to op. 74, is the most exotic piece here. Its middle section sounds like Klezmer music.  
As with quite a few other late Schumann works, the Liederspiele invent their own unclassifiable, hybrid genre. They’re not exactly song cycles, the Spanish text origins don’t result in a strong Spanish musical influence, and the vocal quartet sings together only occasionally, but what matters is that the three collections offer consistently delightful music, an entertaining variety of moods, and, in this performance, a showcase for some bright, healthy singing and unfailingly stylish and sensitive piano playing.
Some of the reticence and occasional bleakness of Schumann’s late style is here, but there is also infectious good humor, particularly in the pieces for full quartet, and there are many examples of the uniquely touching quality that Schumann achieves in his best songs, early and late.
The most memorable song in op. 101 is the heartfelt “Mein schöner Stern” with its almost painfully surging opening phrase. It is beautifully sung by tenor Werner Güra with finely focused sound and a minimum of vibrato, but the performance by Elly Ameling in her classic 1967 Schumann recital with Jörg Demus on Harmonia Mundi remains unsurpassed. The most striking singing here comes from the radiant soprano Marlis Petersen, Natalie Dessay’s last-minute replacement in the Metropolitan Opera’s Hamlet last season and a fine Pamina on René Jacobs’s new Zauberflöte recording. Konrad Jarnot phrases well, but his so-called bass baritone is a light, slender instrument. His solo in op. 138, “Flutenreicher Ebro,” a delightfully Schubertian strophic song, is given a much more satisfying (and slower) performance by a real bass-baritone, William Warfield, on an old recording with the duo pianists Gold and Fizdale along with the great tenor Léopold Simoneau, who sounds awkward in this repertoire and has very strange German pronounciation.
Harmonia Mundi’s pairing of the two Spanish Liederspiele with the less familiar Minnespiel (Love Songs) makes great sense. The two “Spanish” works are more often combined with the Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzer on recordings and, surprisingly, this seems to be the first disc to include all three works. It’s a delightful disc with vibrant recorded sound that I’m certain will give great pleasure to all lovers of Schumann and German Lieder. (Paul Orgel)

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