The Songs of Robert Schumann, vol. 9.
Ann Murray, Felicity Lott, sopranos, Graham Johnson, piano. Hyperion CD J33109
The latest volume of Hyperion's comprehensive collection of the Songs of Robert Schumann is an impressive recording of Schumann's Liederalbum für die Jugend, Op. 79 (1849). The songs are settings with children in mind, and not necessarily music for children to perform; the texts are by a number of poets, such as Goethe, Hebbel, Schiller, Rückert, Uhland, and von Fallersleben. In selecting the texts for this collection of Lieder, Schumann touched upon a variety of subjects, including topics associated with children, like Christmas, and verse about animals ("Marienwürmchen" and "Die Schwalben"); other texts deal with seasons, like Spring ("Frühlingsbotschaft" and "Frühlingsgruss") and the fantastic, as occurs in "Vom Schlaraffenland."
In this CD the performers created what the pianist Graham Johnson describes as "a new performing version" of the work by interspersing the songs with various pieces from the composer's Klavieralbum für die Jugend, Op. 68 (1848). This mode of presentation is wholly in the spirit of Schumann's music and gives the sense of a Lieder-Abend. In fact, the performance is framed by other works that reinforce the spirit of the recording, with a vocal duet set to a text by Schumann's daughter, Marie, and concluding with the "Soldatenlied" (WoO 6) that ends with the direction (implied in its text) that should send children to bed.
Graham Johnson's extensive notes that accompany this recording are useful for understanding the performers' rationale in combining these two collections — the Liederalbum and the Klavieralbum — into a convincing whole. In explaining the planning that went into this performing edition, Johnson considers the exigencies of performing this music. While the music is overtly intended for children, the works do not entirely lend themselves to unskilled performers. Johnson concedes that youthful pianists could tackle the music in either the solo piano pieces or the accompaniments to the Lieder, but cautions the use of children's voices for Lieder that are better suited to experienced singers.
In fact, the two singers here demonstrate in their effective performance the nuance they can contribute. Both Ann Murray and Felicity Lott are highly regarded for their work with Lieder, and this new recording is further proof of their talent. When the women sing together, their voices blend easily and convincingly, as is evident in the "Mailied" (Op. 79, no. 10) and "Frühlingslied" (Op. 79, no. 19). Elsewhere, each singer renders the songs with equal assuredness and mastery, as found in Murray's effective approach to the two "Zigeunerliedchen" (Op. 79, nos. 7 and 8) and the "Käuzlein" (Op. 79, no. 11). Likewise, Lott makes the most of the music in "Mignon" (Op. 79, no. 29), which contains the famous text "Kennst du das Land." In this single Lied, Lott demonstrates her ability to shape such familiar music masterfully.
The pianist Graham Johnson not only accompanies these two women in the Lieder, but also executes the piano pieces deftly. He chose several fine pieces from the Op. 68 collection to use in this performance, so that they complement the songs and also contribute some thematic unity to the recording. In placing the "Lied Italienischer Marinari" (Op. 68, no. 36) after "Kennst du das Land" Johnson offers an apt postlude to the song just before the recording closes with both women singing the "Soldatendlied" that forms a fitting epilogue to the entire performance.
This recording is an excellent contribution to the modern performances of Lieder preserved on CD. Not only does this recording offer authoritative interpretations of the Op. 79 Lieder, but it should inspire performers to use their creativity to combine music by Schumann in the engaging fashion found here, which is fully in the spirit of nineteenth-century practice. The booklet published with the CD includes Johnson's discussion of this performing edition, along with a fine essay on the genre of music for children, which he places in the context of nineteenth-century culture. In addition, the complete texts and translations are accompanied by a commentary on each song and the several illustrations from the period, including facsimiles from various editions, round out the presentation of Lieder on this fine CD.
James L. Zychowicz