Monday, 13 May 2019

A young man's passion: Julian Prégardien & Erik Le Sage in Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe

Schumann: Dichterliebe - Julian Pregardien - Alpha Classics
Robert Schumann Dichterliebe, Robert & Clara Schumann Songs, duets & piano pieces; Julian Prégardien, Erik Le Sage, Sandrine Piau; Alpha Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 10 May 2019
Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)

Schumann's Dichterliebe in an intelligent and lyrically passionate re-thinking

The opening track of this new recording of Robert Schumann's Dicterliebe from tenor Julian Prégardien  and pianist Erik le Sage on Alpha Classics is something of a surprise as the voice that greets us is that of soprano Sandrine Piau. To accompany Schumann's 1840 song cycle, Prégardien has chosen a selection of songs, duets and piano pieces by both Schumanns, Robert & Clara. The beloved is present, implicitly, throughout Dichterliebe and in selecting the accompanying material Prégardien makes us explore the relationship further. Another big feature of the recording is the piano, not a modern grand but an 1856 fortepiano by Julius Bluthner, giving us a window into the sort of sound-world which Schumann might have known.

We start with the duet In der Nacht from the Spanisches Liederspiel, a rather serious and intent piece where the entry of the male voice comes as something of a surprise. This is followed by one of Clara Schumann's expressive, romantic piano works, the second of the Three Romances Op.11. Robert Schumann's Die Lowenbraut setting Adalbert von Chamisso's ballad is something of a strange piece. Prégardien and Piau render it as a duet, with Piau voicing the young bride with Pregardien as narrator. The performance style is a little distant and contained, only in the final verses does Pregardien really let rip with the drama.

Wenn ich ein Voglein war is a German folk-song, and we hear it first in a simple unaccompanied canonic duet by Clara and then in a far more complex and dramatic treatment by Robert (which found its way into his opera Genoveva). Prégardien's intense account of  Mein Herz is schwer from Myrthen makes a superb introduction to Dichterliebe.

Prégardien and Le Sage's approach to Dichterliebe can be discerned from the very opening, where Le Sage conjurs some wonderfully transparent textures from the piano, whilst Pregardien's line is youthful and lyrical, but also contemplative. Whilst there are moments are anger and irony in their performance cycle, it is this youthfulness and contemplation which comes over, Pregardien and Le Sage seem to be conveying emotion recalled in retrospect rather than lived at the time. The second song continues the intimate feel, whilst the third has a real vividness to the words.

Throughout the cycle, Schumann uses the postludes to the songs to modulate the emotions expressed, no more so than in the final song, and Le Sage's thoughtful and apposite playing makes these sound magical on the 1856 piano.

Prégardien's young man, and he is young, is quick to anger but also quick to subside so that the sixth song starts strong but evaporates into something delicate. With the seventh song 'Ich grolle nicht' we get a sense of the passionate irony which imbues Heine's words, then the following song is beautifully delicate, with irony returning in the dance of the ninth song, 'Das ist ein Floten und Geigen'. Whilst there is a swagger to the eleventh song 'Ein Jungling liebt ein Madchen', by the time of the nineteenth Prégardien's tone is bleached white.The swagger returns, briefly, in the penultimate song but quickly evaporates. The final one, when the poet entombs all his memories in a coffin, is strong and ironic but Schumann punctures this with the magical postlude.

To follow, Prégardien and Le Sage give us a wistful 'Kurzes erwachen' from Schumann's Six Early Songs, and a poignantly passionate account of 'Sangers trost' from 5 Lieder und Gesange, Op.127. Two vividly lyrical piano pieces follow, and we end with more Heine 'Mein Wagen rollet langsam', the poet's carriage moving slowly on, leaving things behind. A lyrical and characterful image.

In the CD booklet Julian Prégardien explains his approach to Dichterliebe and the editorial decisions he has taken in the light of the knowledge we have of Schumann's various versions of the cycle. This re-thinking extends to the sound world of the cycle itself, extended via the accompanying songs, duets and piano pieces. I loved Pregardien and Le Sage's light, lyrical and transparent approach, but one which is shot through with a young man's passion too.

Robert Schumann - Spanisches Liederspiel, Op.74: In der Nacht
Clara Schumann - 3 Romances, Op.11: II. Andante - Allegro passionato - Andante
Robert Schumann - 3 Gesänge, Op.31: I. Die Löwenbraut
Clara Schumann - Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär
Robert Schumann - 3 Zweistimmige Lieder, Op.43: Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär
Robert Schumann - Myrthen, Op.25: XV. Aus Den Hebräischen Gesängen (Mein Herz Ist Schwer)
Robert Schumann - Dichterliebe, Op.48
Robert Schumann - Sechs frühe Lieder Op. Post. (WoO 21): Kurzes Erwachen
Robert Schumann - 5 Lieder und Gesänge, Op.127: I. Sängers Trost
Robert Schumann - 3 Romanzen, Op.28: I. Sehr Markirt
Robert Schumann - 3 Romanzen, Op.28: II. Einfach
Robert Schumann - 4 Gesänge, Op.142: IV. Mein Wagen rollet langsam
Julian Prégardien (baritone)
Erik Le Sage (piano)
Sandrine Piau (soprano)
Recorded September 2018, SWR Funkstudio Stuttgart, Germany
ALPHA CLASSICS ALPHA457 1CD [66.15]

Available from Amazon.

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