1840 is known as Schumanns year of song, some 138 Lieder emerging as the realisation dawned that marriage to Clara Wieck was finally to be forthcoming. Of the song-cycles composed that year, Dichterliebe is deservedly the most famous - the quality of texts, settings and piano commentary reaching inspired heights. Yet the two cycles presented here by Matthias Goerne feature songs which illuminate Schumanns preoccupations, musical and existential, over a heady twelve months.
The Liederkreis to poems by Joseph von Eichendorff make a varied and well-contrasted cycle. From the emotional longing of In der Fremde I and the unaffected joy of Intermezzo, through the rapt expressiveness of Mondnacht and the evocative sense of distance in Auf einer Burg, culminating in the foreboding of Zwielicht and the vibrant anticipation of Frülingsnacht. Goerne had the measure of the cycle, while being noticeably more involved in the agitated In der Fremde II and the resolute Waldesgespräch than the ethereal Schöne Fremde or the resignation of Wehmut. Eric Schneider provided thoughtful if at times detached accompaniment, contributing to a lack of integration in the cycle as a whole.
Matters were different in the Kerner-Lieder, which has remained the least performed of the 1840 offerings. Justinius Kerners often awkward and repetitive ballads are not among the most inspiring of the German Romantic era, but they do define moods of restlessness and uncertainty such as Schumann himself was prone to, and clearly fired his imagination to a degree out of proportion to their literary merit. From the defiant Lust der Sturmnacht and the fatalistic Stirb, Lieb und Freud!, through the intense nostalgia of Sensucht nach der Waldegegend and the reflective Auf das Trinkglas, to the emotional plangency of Stille Tränen and the soulful yearning of Alte Laute - this is a cycle unified to a high degree technically and expressively.
Goernes rich though never generalised baritone made the most of the decisive Wanderlied and the robust Wanderung while plumbing the depths of the enigmatic Erstes Grün and confessional Stille Liebe, which moved seamlessly into the hesitant Frage and thence to the final song. With Schneider fully in accord, this was an account to raise the profile of a cycle whose relative neglect has been unjust. A thoughtful and thought-provoking opening to the Wigmore Halls winter season.