Schumann: Brigitte Fassbaender & Irwin Gage

0 of 5 stars

Frauenliebe und -leben, Op.42
Tragödie, Op.64/3
Liederkreis, Op.24
3 Heine-Lieder: Abends am Strand, Op.45/3; Lehn deine Wang’ an meine Wang’, Op.142/2; Mein Wagen rollet langsam, Op.142/4

Brigitte Fassbaender (mezzo-soprano) & Irwin Gage (piano)

Recorded in October 1984 at Studio Lankwitz, Berlin

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: June 2006
476 2386
Duration: 57 minutes

Another wonderful lieder reissue on super-budget Eloquence, this time featuring the incomparable Brigitte Fassbaender, partnered by the thoroughly engaging Irwin Gage, in Schumann’s “Frauenliebe und -leben” and the Opus 24 “Liederkreis”.

All the works on this disc, with the exception of “Tragödie” (1841), date from Schumann’s great ‘year of song’, 1840; the second and third of the Heine-Lieder even invoke the ghostly presence of another great cycle from the same year, as they were originally included in “Dichterliebe” before being excised, along with two other songs, after initial rejection of the work by Schumann’s publishers.

Fassbaender (born 1939) was not only an outstanding mezzo on the opera stage (her Octavian was particularly praised) but also a penetrating, if sometimes eccentric, interpreter of Lieder. Irwin Gage (also born in 1939) is equally penetrating, having partnered many of the great singers of the 20th-century (especially Gundula Janowitz, with whom he recorded much Schubert).

Both Fassbaender’s dramatic bent and Gage’s love of poetry give their readings particular force and affective capacity. “Frauenliebe und -leben” is given a coherence and freedom of expression I haven’t heard since Eberhard Wächter’s and Alfred Brendel’s account of “Dichterliebe” – with plenty of room for originality (the text of ‘Helft mir, ihr Schwestern’ is strangely subdued, allowing Gage’s pealing accompaniment to ring out; the stillness achieved in the final stanza of ‘Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan’ could hardly be bettered, preparing the way for Gage’s sensitive handling of the final, poignant postlude). And how a mezzo’s colour suits the ultimate gravity of the cycle – comparing Fassbaender with Elly Ameling (partnered by Dalton Baldwin), you enjoy the sublime beauty of the voice while missing the tonal range.

With the Opus 24 “Liederkreis”, we really are in “Dichterliebe” territory (same poet, of course – Heine), with its loose narrative and flitting from agitation to calm to resignation. How well both Fassbaender and Gage handle these extremes while giving a sense of overall unity. Listen to how the desperate, agitated waterfall of ‘Es treibt mich hin, es treibt mich her’ ends in the still, melancholy pool of ‘Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen’ (and here how perfect is the birds’ reply of the third stanza!). Or the insightful tenderness of ‘Berg’ und Burgen schaun herunter’, matching Fischer-Dieskau (with Christoph Eschenbach) in its detail and beauty of line (though without the sometimes regrettable atomisation of both words and music that master of Lieder-interpretation was sometimes prone to).

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