CD - Schumann an intimate recital

"Of the thirty-one songs that make up this recital all but four are concerned with the intimate emotional experiences of a woman or young girl. All the events, expectations, disappointments, joy and sorrow are communicated directly by the person experiencing them. The four observational songs (Der Nußbaum, Die Lotosblume, Herzeleid and Schneeglöckchen) in which the poet acts as our intermediary, also share a preoccupation with private, youthful yearning and heartbreak, with only Schneeglöckchen falling into the archetypal lieder catch-all of gender neutral "nature" song."

Schumann lieder with a fresh twist.

This recording by soprano Charlotte de Rothschild on Nimbus Records is a departure from the specialist repertoire for which she is best known ('A Japanese Journey' and 'The Songs of Mathilde de Rothschild'). Here she steps boldly into the mainstream lieder repertoire in 'Schumann - An Intimate Recital'.

Charlotte de Rothschild has, of course, a great deal of experience of 'theming' music for recitals and recordings. But programming can be a minefield and I am something of a sceptic about it, so I harumphed a little at first when I read the sleeve notes. 'Of the thirty-one songs that make up this recital all but four are concerned with the intimate emotional experiences of a woman or young girl. All the events, expectations, disappointments, joy and sorrow, are communicated directly by the person experiencing them.' However, the more I listened, the more I came to appreciate the approach de Rothschild and her pianist Adrian Farmer have taken on this CD.

The first four songs are well known and are sung with great charm, especially 'Marienwürmchen'.

They are a kind of preface to much meatier repertoire. 'Sieben Lieder von Elisabeth Kulmann'. Schumann wrote 'The poetess lost her father and six of her seven brothers at an early age. Only her mother, whom she revered and loved until she died, survived.'

The lighter songs of this cycle such as 'Viel Glück zur Reise, Schwalben!' and 'Der Zeisig' are perfect for de Rothschild's light lyric soprano, but she is also unexpectedly good in the darker moments of the cycle. She has found a more dramatic colour to her voice which gives real depth to all the Kulmann songs. One of my favourites was 'Die Letzen Blumen Starben'. There is a genuine drooping sadness here from both performers and some beautiful soft singing.

Adrian Farmer's accompaniment is generally very good indeed. There is clearly a strong musical connection between these two. Having said that, there are moments where I would have liked a little more support for the singer - I felt this most keenly in 'Das Verlaßne Magdelein'.

'Frauenliebe Und Leben' is traditionally sung by a mezzo-soprano so I was a little apprehensive of how de Rothschild would approach this wonderful song cycle written by Schumann to his beloved wife Clara. I needn't have worried. What we get is a fresh take on the songs. Here is a young woman, perhaps 16 or 17, singing breathlessly of her new beloved, then of her deepening love and ultimately her loss. de Rothschild's singing here has a charming girlishness to it which suits the character of the songs very well, although I'd argue that a couple of the songs are a bit too slow given the breathless nature of the music. But she more than made up for this in 'Süßer Freund' which has real tenderness and 'An Meinem Herzen' which bubbles with excitement and love. The final song 'Nun hast du mir' is heartbreakingly quiet with restrained anguish and sent shivers down my spine.

Between the song cycles are pairs of songs. 'Schneeglöckchen' has a nice delicacy of touch and 'Lied der Suleika' shows intelligent interpretation of the words. There are two songs at the end of this disc which are very nicely done, but I'm unsure as to why they end the programme. Personally, I would have preferred to end with the other song cycle 'Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart' which has some marvellous music.

The sleeve notes say "The Mary Queen of Scots songs are settings of letters attributed to the Scottish Queen, worked into German verses by Gisbert, Freiherr von Vincke (181-1892). What the sources were, and to what extent (if any) they actually came from Mary's pen, remains unresolved speculation. Her preserved letters certainly contain similar ideas, but they are never expressed with such compression."

These songs are powerfully done. The first is the Scottish Queen's farewell to France and de Rothschild's excellent language skills (and diction - I could hear every word) are used to poignant effect. The second has a musical echo from the final song of 'Frauenliebe und Leben' and is sung with appropriate solemnity. The remaining songs portray Mary's growing fear and anguish through the long years of her imprisonment and here, as in the Kulmann songs, de Rothschild finds a darker side to her singing which is very moving.

All in all, a very interesting performance from Charlotte de Rothschild and Adrian Farmer. Polished musicianship and passionate interpretation of the words. Some real beauty of tone, particularly in the soft singing, and a wider colour palette than she's shown before. I'd say that this leap into mainstream lieder is a judicious one and well worth many a listening.

5 out of 5 - Amazon September 2013

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Schumann an intimate recital

"Of the thirty-one songs that make up this recital all but four are concerned with the intimate emotional experiences of a woman or young girl. All the events, expectations, disappointments, joy and sorrow are communicated directly by the person experiencing them. The four observational songs (Der Nußbaum, Die Lotosblume, Herzeleid and Schneeglöckchen) in which the poet acts as our intermediary, also share a preoccupation with private, youthful yearning and heartbreak, with only Schneeglöckchen falling into the archetypal lieder catch-all of gender neutral "nature" song."

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