Classical CD Reviews
The Songs of Robert Schumann, Volume 10 = Kate Royal, soprano/ Felicity Lott, soprano/ Lydia Teuscher, soprano/ Ann Murray, mezzo-soprano/ Daniela Lehner, mezzo-soprano/ Stephan Loges, baritone/ Christoph Bantzer, reciter/ Graham Johnson, piano – Hyperion
Published on February 18, 2008
This is my first exposure to the hot new soprano Kate Royal, whose solo EMI recording has just been released also, and our Peter Bates was quite enthusiastic. Myself, I hope to hear her in the flesh in about a month, but in the meantime this tantalizing tidbit of Schumanniana will have to serve. This is the tenth volume in Hyperion’s admirable Schumann enterprise, and the Liederkreis, op. 39, is given the Royal treatment. This piece is not one of Schumann’s most popular cycles, despite the presence of three or four well-liked zingers, and even the composer took a while (well, several months) to fashion the thing into a bona fide cycle. The composer fell in love with the poetry of Joseph von Eichendorff, and even met him once, but it is not at all certain that there was any reciprocity in the relationship. Eichendorff was extremely conservative in temperament, and that was certainly anathema to the hyper-romantic Schumann, but it is unlikely that he was ever aware of the poet’s proclivities. There were originally 13 numbers in the cycle, but the composer trimmed it down to an even 12, and rearranged pieces and tightened up issues of key before re-releasing the work after an unsuccessful first try. It has never become what Schumann hoped for, but it is a fact that what he thought it was indeed is; one can search far and wide for a closer knit, more integrated series of lieder dwelling on the mysteries of the forest and German countryside. Kate Royal tones down some of her interpretations to reflect the genuinely intimate and reflectively pensive music to great effect, lovingly adjusting her voice to the needs of each word.
For alternatives with a male voice, I have found no more satisfying version than that of Fischer-Dieskau and Alfred Brendel on Philips.
The rest of the disc, as the series in general does, mixes more tidbits, hangers-on, and miscellaneous music. Some of it, like the declamatory works and recited pieces, probably had more effect on audiences at the time, though it would be interesting to hear the music in concert now, something highly unlikely. Therefore we are lucky to have it here. The remainder of the program is littered with duets, choral pieces, and singularly divorced songs, none without some kind of interest, and a few, like the simply-adorned Madchenlieder, real gems. The sound is enveloping and warm, and Hyperion’s booklet, actually a book unto itself with some of the most integrated and detailed notes on record, remains a model of inspired, intelligent writing. Highest recommendation.
– Steven Ritter