Barbara Bonney (soprano) & Antonio Pappano (piano)
Reviewed by: Geoff Allen
Reviewed: May 2002
CD No: DECCA 470 289-2
This is an intriguing disc featuring Schumann’s Dichterliebe – written for the male voice. Other than Lotte Lehmann it is difficult to recall any other female singer attempting this greatest of Schumann’s song-cycles. Barbara Bonney has stated that she imagined herself to be the woman to whom the poems are addressed.
Bonney and Antonio Pappano have obviously thought through this work most carefully. Bonney’s singing brings all the expected intelligence one would expect from her. The voice is refined and beautiful; Bonney’s trademark silvery-sound is most appealing. Pappano’s playing is sensitive, well judged and probing.
Nevertheless, there is something missing from the performance that compromises the whole. This arises, mainly, from Bonney’s voice not always suiting the work. For all her artistry and delicious timbres, these cannot always make up for the lack of dramatic contrast in the narrative itself or between the voice and the piano. This is at its most pronounced in ’Ich grolle nicht’, one of the most dramatic songs. Here it is just sad and with little sign of the scorn required; perhaps though, given the circumstances of Bonney’s interpretation, the expression needs to be understood in terms of a feminine corollary. Bonney’s is certainly a most interesting performance.
Turning to the Liszt songs, again one is struck by the lack of theatre that one expects from the works of this composer. Partly this is due to the precise playing of Pappano rather than the virtuosity one ideally hopes for in such repertoire, and that Bonney has chosen the songs with great care; when there are alternative versions (often the case with Liszt) she has chosen the more restrained settings. Liszt’s version of Goethe’s “Kennst du das Land” (Mignons Lied), in the light of those by Schubert and, especially, Wolf, is fascinating and beautiful. Generally these renditions of Liszt’s lovely songs are a delight.
Despite certain reservations this is an immensely appealing CD, one that can be recommended – especially if you are open-minded and intrigued to hear Dichterliebe in a different guise.