Friday 12 August 2022

Matters of the heart: a journey through Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben

Robert Schumann; Frauenliebe und -leben, songs by Richard Strauss, piano solos by Schumann and Strauss; Sarah Brady, Stephen Delaney; Prospero
Robert Schumann; Frauenliebe und -leben, songs by Richard Strauss, piano solos by Schumann and Strauss; Sarah Brady, Stephen Delaney; Prospero
Reviewed 9 August 2022 (★★★★)

Warmly communicative performances in an imaginative recital that mixes Schumann's song cycle with songs by Richard Strauss

What to do about Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben Op. 42, a work which while a masterpiece, preserves a very particular view of a woman's role. Whilst the role depicted in the cycle would have been perhaps still recognisable to women up to the 1950s, it was simply a model and life could be different. Certainly, Frauenliebe und -leben does not reflect life in the Schumann household, where Clara was very much the bread-winner. 

This new disc from Irish soprano Sarah Brady and Australian pianist Stephen Delaney on the Swiss label Prospero is titled Matters of the Heart and is described as "a journey through A Woman’s Love and Life Op. 42 (Adelbert von Chamisso) by Robert Schumann (1810–1856), juxtaposed with songs and works for piano by Robert Schumann and Richard Strauss (1864–1949)". They do not remove the fact of the male gaze that bedevils the song cycle, but then few women composers in the 19th century wrote about life from a woman's point of view in the contemporary sense. But Strauss brings a different, more emotional point of view to the mix and his hyper-romantic style proves to be a surprisingly satisfying complement for the Schumann.

Brady and Delaney use the Strauss songs to amplify the Schumann narrative, giving us more background to moments such as motherhood and the death of the beloved. What we have is a sequence which mixes the songs from Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben (in order) with one of Schumann's piano pieces, seven Strauss songs and two of Strauss' early piano pieces.

Sarah Brady, Stephen Delaney (Phot: Sandra Then)
Sarah Brady, Stephen Delaney (Phot: Sandra Then)

So we begin with Strauss' Ruhe, meine Seele! with the protagonist's soul in turmoil. Brady starts with calm poise and lovely warm tone, but there is a slow build to a powerful climax. 'Warum' from Schumann's Fantasiestücke Op. 12 forms a gently questioning and poetic piano introduction to the beginning of the Schumann cycle.

'Seit ich ihn gesehen' and 'Er, der Herrlichste von allen' are both warmly engaging, with Brady singing with very present and highly communicative tones; throughout the disc, her diction is excellent, you hardly need the printed words. In these first two songs she moves from gently touching to impulsive enthusiasm.

This is then mirrored in Strauss' Ständchen Op. 48, No. 2, the image of the lover come to awaken the protagonist reflected in the way Brady and Delaney make the song brim over with impulsive enthusiasm. And Strauss' Einerlei Op. 69, No. 3 becomes almost rhapsodic at times, with some fine piano playing from Delaney.

Returning to Schumann, 'Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben' vividly depicts the woman's varied emotions, whilst 'Du Ring an meinem Finger' moves from calm, interior beauty to something like real affirmation. Strauss' early 'Allegro' from Fünf Klavierstücke Op. 3 moves the mood from sprightly to richly romantic.

Returning to Schumann, 'Helft mir, ihr Schwestern' has emotions really welling up, Brady's soprano is warmly engaging with lovely warm tone. The piano postlude here leads directly into Strauss' Cäcilie Op. 27, No. 2 with its outpouring of emotion. Strauss' Beim Schlafengehen brings the mood back down to one of thoughtful reflection, but even here things get rhapsodic.

A touching account of Schumann's 'Süßer Freund, du blickest' introduces baby to us, with 'An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust' being full of affirmative energy. Still in childhood mood are Strauss' Wiegenlied Op. 41, No. 1 and Muttertändelei Op. 43, No. 2, the first combining Brady's lovely, thoughtful line with Delaney's rippling piano, the other full of delightful energy and character.

Strauss' 'Andante' from Fünf Klavierstücke Op. 3 bears the dedication In memoriam Carolyn Hague and the music moves from the touching to strong emotions, setting the scene for Strauss' Befreit Op. 39, No. 4, a strange song which makes complete sense here, moving from calm, dark colours to intense moments that are almost transcendent.

Schumann's final song in his cycle, 'Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan' is quietly moving with the touching postlude leading us back into the music of the first song. Brady and Delaney end, however, with another vision of transcendence, Strauss' Morgen; poised and natural with expressive words.

Whilst you might not want to listen to Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben done this way every time, I loved these performances. The warm communicativeness of Brady's singing combined with the sympathetic partnership of pianist Stephen Delaney make this a very engaging release as well as an imaginative journey through Schumann's song.

Robert Schumann; Frauenliebe und -leben, songs by Richard Strauss, piano solos by Schumann and Strauss; Sarah Brady, Stephen Delaney; Prospero

Robert Schumann (1810-1856) -  Frauenliebe und -leben 
Songs by Richard Strauss, piano solos by Schumann and Strauss
Sarah Brady (soprano)
Stephen Delaney (piano)
Recorded: 11–13 April 2021, SRF Studio Zurich Brunnenhof, Switzerland


Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • Operatic wit and style in the West End: Donizetti's Rita at the Charing Cross Theatre - opera review
  • Colour and movement: Gilbert & Sullivan returns to Opera Holland Park with HMS Pinafore - opera review
  • Prom 30: Gavin Higgins' Concerto Grosso for brass band and orchestra with the Tredegar Band and BBC NOW - concert review
  • Two very different approaches to Bach's Goldberg Variations from harpsichordist Nathaniel Mander & violinist Jorge Jimenez - record review
  • Stupendous achievement: Grimeborn's Ring adventure comes to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion at the Hackney Empire - opera review
  • Vox in Bestia: Laura Catrani uses solo voice to explore Dante's animals with music from three contemporary Italian composers - record review
  • A Vaughan Williams Anthology: Tony Cooper reviews Naxos' eight-disc box set - record review
  • Black, el Payaso: Pablo Sorozábal's engaging operetta gets its UK premiere in an enterprising production by Cervantes Theatre at Grimeborn - opera review
  • Handel’s Alcina - a ‘first’ for Glyndebourne - joins other great Handel gems in the company’s repertoire such as AriodanteGiulio CesareRinaldo and Theodora - opera review
  • Finely poetic: Ernest Chausson's early Piano Trio alongside works by his contemporary, Eugene Ysaÿe - record review
  • Riotous comedy & humanity: Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore at West Green House Opera - opera review
  • Serious SongsJess Dandy & Martin Roscoe in Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, Strauss at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month