Tragödie, Op.64/3 – Entflieh’ mit mir und sei mein Weib; Es fiel ein Reif in der Frühlingsnacht
Die beiden Grenadiere, Op.49/1
Abends am Strand, Op.45/3
Die feindlichen Brüder, Op.49/2
Der arme Peter, Op.53/3 – Der Hans und die Grete tanzen herum; In meiner Brust; Der arme Peter wankt vorbei
Myrthen – Die Lotosblume, Op.25/7; Was will die einsame Träne, Op.25/21; Du bist wie eine Blume. Op.25/24
Songs originally conceived for Dichterliebe – Lehn’ deine Wang’ an meine Wang’, Op.142/2; Es leuchtet meine Liebe, Op.127/3; Dein Angesicht so lieb und schön, Op.127/2; Mein Wagen rollet langsam, Op.142/4
Gerald Finley (baritone) & Julius Drake (piano)
Recorded 25-27 October 2007 in All Saint’s Church, East Finchley, London
Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson
Reviewed: August 2008
CD No: HYPERION CDA67676
Duration: 70 minutes
My starting-point for this review is the question asked in the promotional material for this release: “Why another Dichterliebe recording?” The current catalogue offers a range of interpretations of varying vintages undertaken predominantly by baritones but also by some tenors, the occasional soprano and even a countertenor. There is a questionable assumption that every emerging male Lieder singer should before long give us his “Dichterliebe”, just as every budding symphonic conductor needs to record Beethoven symphonies. As a result the field is diluted with many versions of no great character. In favour of flooding it even further it can be said that such a towering masterpiece can always sustain further exploration. Any work of significance in the song literature, seen through the prism of a particular vocal personality, particularly a strong, intelligent one, yields new secrets.
In any generation few singers take supreme rank both as opera singers and concert artists. Gerald Finley is one. His career has been characterised by enterprising exploration of the repertoire and it is no surprise that he has now arrived at this work.
I turned first, then, to “Dichterliebe”. This is not an interpretation that begins with a vision of the unalloyed freshness of spring: the tempo for the opening song is slow, the ethos lethargic. The poet is looking back on a lost relationship but one whose flowering season he can still envisage. The all-consuming power of love is re-created decisively in the third song and better times recalled in the fifth. Finley’s lyric baritone is incisive without being bulky. He can deploy reserves without the tone becoming uneven. As a vehicle for communicating character and drama the voice always retains a foundation of elegance and musicianship. That is not to say that he plays down the intensity of resentment felt by the central character in ‘Ich grolle nicht’ or in the final phrases of the succeeding song “Sie hat ja selbst zerrissen, zerrissen mir das Herz”; indeed it is razor-sharp in each case.
tessitura but Schumann has wittily set the poems to conventional musical forms, ending with a funeral march, and throughout the trio of songs Finley and Drake invite us to laugh with them at the absurdity of the character’s self-dramatisation.
The straightforward love songs from “Myrthen” display Finley’s vocal refinement; words and sound balanced in the serenity of ‘Die Lotosblume’, high notes powerful but not abrasive in ‘Was will die einsame Träne’ and ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’ softly sung but without ostentatious recourse to head voice.
The four settings originally intended for a 20-song “Dichterliebe” are given absolutely full value by Finley and Drake. By showing the similarities between them as reserves and the sixteen members of the first team, they indicate the extent to which they duplicate features of the latter: the laconic style and inconclusive ending of ‘Lehn’ deine Wang’ an meine Wang’, the morbid flavour of ‘Dein Angesicht’ and the importance of the piano as a carrier of meaning in ‘Es leuchtet meine Liebe’. I feel a sense of loss only about the absence from the cycle of ‘Mein Wagen rollet langsam’, a truly great song with its complex postlude, in which Drake holds the listener in tantalising suspense.
There is an understandable suspicion about each new recording of a commonly-recorded work: might the performers have succumbed to the temptation to deliver a distinctive interpretation and establish a unique selling point? Might they have been propelled in the direction of exaggeration, perhaps in extremes of dynamic, of tempo or of emphasis? The engineers too may have used their own resources to make the recording stand out in a crowded field. Fortunately the recording of these songs gives no cause for complaint: voice and piano are clearly focused and in ideal balance. As for the musicians, they offer stimulating, possibly unique couplings for the cycle and provide strong competition for my preferred version for baritone, that of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Christoph Eschenbach. I doubt if they are finished with Schumann.
Texts and translations are supplied in the booklet, as well as a thoughtful note by Richard Wigmore.