A Cornucopia of Schumann Lied

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Vol. 1 / SCHUMANN: Liederkreis, Op. 24. Der arme Peter. Belsazar.  Dichterliebe / Thomas E. Bauer, bar; Uta Hielscher, pno / Naxos 8.557075 (released 2005)

Vol. 2 / SCHUMANN: Liebesfrühling: Songs 1-9. Lieder und Gesäng aus Goethes “Wilhelm Meister.” Sologesänge aus Friedrich Rückerts “Minnespiel” / Thomas E. Bauer, bar; Susanne Bernhard, sop; Uta Hielscher, pno / Naxos 8.557074 (released 2005)

Vol. 3 / SCHUMANN: Liederalbum für die Jugend. Lieder und Gesänge I, Op. 27 / Sibylla Rubens, sop; Stefanie Iranyi, mezzo; Thomas E. Bauer, bar; Uta Hielscher, pno / Naxos 8. 557076 (released 2007)

Vol. 4 / SCHUMANN: 12 Lieder, Op. 35. 5 Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 127. 5 Gesänge, Op. 142. Jugend Lieder nach Kerner, WoO  21 & 10 / Hans Jörg Mammel, ten; Uta Hielscher, pno / Naxos 8.557077 (released 2008)

Vol. 5 / SCHUMANN: Frauenliebe und –leben. 7 Lieder, Op. 104. Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart. 6 Gesänge, Op. 107 / Sibylla Rubens, sop; Uta Hielscher, pno / Naxos 8.557078 (released 2008)

Vol. 6 / SCHUMANN: Myrthen. 6 Gedichte und Requiem / Andrea Lauren Brown, sop; Thomas E. Bauer, bar; Uta Hielscher, pno / Naxos 8.557079 (release 2011)

Vol. 7 / SCHUMANN: Liederkreis, Op. 39. 3 Gedichte, Op. 30. 3 Gesänge, Op. 31: 1. Die Löwenbraut. 6 Gedichte aus dem Liederbuch eines Malers, Op. 36 / Thomas E. Bauer, bar; Uta Hielscher, pno / Naxos 8.557080 (released 2013)

Vol. 8 / SCHUMANN: Minnespiel, Op. 101: Nos. 5, 7 & 8. Spanisches Liederspiel, Op. 74. Spanische Liebeslieder, Op. 138 / Anna Palimina, sop; Marion Eckstein, alto; Simon Bode, ten; Matthias Hoffmann, bs-bar; Uta Hielscher, Stefan Irmer, pno / Naxos 8.573944 (released 2019)

Vol. 9 / SCHUMANN: Romanzen und Balladen, Books I & II. 2 Balladen, Op. 122.  Der Handschuh. 5 Lieder, Op. 40. Schön Hedwig. 3 Gesänge, Op. 31 No. 3. 4 Husarenlieder. Des Sängers Fluch, Op. 139 No. 7 (version for voice & piano) / Detlef Roth, bar/narr; Ulrich Eisenlohr, pno / Naxos 8.574029 (released 2020)

Vol. 10 / SCHUMANN: Zweistimmige Lieder, Op. 43. 4 Duette, Op. 34. 3 Gesänge, Op. 31 Nos. 1 & 2. 4 Duette, Op. 78. 3 Gesänge, Op. 95. Des Sängers Fluch, Op. 139 No. 4 (version for voice & piano). Lied für xxx, Anh. M1:2. Mädchenlieder, Op. 103. Sommerruh, WoO 7 / Caroline Melzer, sop; Anke Vondung, mezzo; Simon Bode, ten; Ulrich Eisenlohr, pno / Naxos 8.574119 (released 2021)

Well, chop off my legs and call me shorty. Naxos has actually been releasing a SERIES of the complete lieder of Robert Schumann for the past 16 years, but just haven’t bothered to alert the buying public that it WAS a series. None of the album covers indicated a volume number at any given time; you have to look at the fine print on the back covers to discover that these are meant to be sequential releases. Most people, myself included, just assumed that these were random issues of Schumann lieder by various singers spun out every so often as the spirit moved the company.

But with the issue of the most recent CD, we are informed that this is Vol. 10 of a complete “Schumann Lied Edition” which will run one more volume. We are also told that

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I have no doubt that some collectors did “snap up” each issue in this series, but not all. There are so many superb versions of Liederkreis, Dichterliebe, Frauenliebe und –leben, Myrthen etc. out there that I’m sure that some of these releases were glossed over by many.

Yet another reason why I would think that not everyone viewed this as a sequential release of complete Schumann lieder is that the songs were, and still are, released completely out of order. If one is attempting to issue a complete series of anything, one should present them in at least something resembling the order in which those pieces were written, as the Two Pianists label did in their excellent set of the complete lieder of Richard Strauss. Yes, there may be instances when a song cycle is so long that placing it in strict chronological order will be logistically impossible, but you should at least attempt serial integrity.

Well, here goes…my review of the entire series.

VOL. 1: This first installment belongs to German baritone Thomas E. Bauer, who does a pretty good job of hiding his birth year online, though he appears to have been in his early 30s at the time of this recording (I could be wrong). He has a very attractive voice, bright with a quick vibrato which is very unusual for German singers, and is an excellent interpreter, which is not at all uncommon for Germans. Pianist Uta Hielscher, who plays on each of the first eight volumes in this series, has a nice style with plenty of give-and-take in the rhythm and phrasing but uses only a little of the sustain pedal. This is not altogether a good thing, as it makes her slow passages sound a tad disconnected at times, but for the most part this isn’t a major problem. Nearly every track on this CD is sung ideally, which particularly surprised me in Dichterliebe because my bar is set very high. My gold standard performance is the one that Gérard Souzay recorded with Alfred Cortot in 1956, followed by the 1979 recording of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Christoph Eschenbach, but Bauer-Hielscher is very close to these in both vocalism and interpretation. An outstanding record.

VOL. 2: Bauer is back for this CD, sometimes alternating and occasionally duetting with soprano Susanna Bernhard. She has a nice voice and is highly musical, but not on the level of Bauer as an interpreter. Except for Bauer’s insight with words, only about half of this album is really outstanding as music (the Goethe songs are really interesting), but even the weaker songs are pretty good. This CD, incidentally, was recorded in 2003, two years before it was released. And curiously, if you go to download the song texts from the Naxos website, you’ll discover that this Vol. 2 was originally numbered Vol. 1 and vice-versa.

VOL. 3 consists mostly of his songs for children, ending with his five  Op. 27 Lieder und Gesänge. Bauer returns again, making magic of the songs he is assigned, complemented by Sybilla Rubens and Stefanie Iranyi. Rubens is one of my favorite modern singers, a soprano with a bright, pointed, well-focus voice; she sounds like a cross between Lucia Popp and Edith Mathis, and is always a treat to the ear. Iranyi also has a lovely, bright voice. I have no idea what talent agency Naxos contacted to recruit the singers for this project, but apparently they have some of the best voices and particularly voices for lieder in all of Germany. I suppose you could think of these as songs for your children if mom and dad and Aunt Gertrude all had first-class professional voices.

VOL. 4: Thomas E. Bauer takes a couple of CDs off. He is replaced on this disc by Hans Jörg Hammel, a tenor with a rather small voice but one that is attractive in sound, sort of a cross between Julius Patzak and Peter Anders. He’s also a bit more generic of an interpreter than either Bauer or Patzak, but still handles his voice with fine artistry. His one weakness is that his low range is rather wan. Hyperion’s complete Schumann lied edition, the only serious competition to this set, has the great British baritone Simon Keenlyside singing the 12 lieder of Justinus Kerner, a great improvement over Hammel in both voice and interpretation, but as I say, Hammel isn’t bad. He is clearly a better singer than Ian Bostridge, who is also on the Hyperion set.

VOL. 5: Since this disc features Frauenliebe und –leben, which is always sung by a woman, Naxos decided to just give the whole album over to Sybilla Rubens, and she is delightful if not quite as insightful an interpreter as Sharon Rostorf-Zamir or Klára Tákacs. (And truthfully, I’ve never cared a lot for this cycle. To me, it’s common and somewhat drippy music.) A beautiful recital album if rather short: at 47:16, it is the briefest CD in the series.

VOL. 6: It would be three more years before Vol. 6 was released. Bauer is back as the baritone and makes an immediate impression singing “Widmung” from Myrthen, in which he alternates with another newcomer, soprano Andrea Lauren Brown, whose light, airy voice is perfect for “Der Nussbaum” and quite good in her other songs. In fact, I prefer her voice to that of Camilla Tilling, who partners with Christian Gerhaher in the highly-touted Sony Classical recording of this cycle, even though some of her performances are a bit on the timid side. Bauer’s version of the “Lied eines schmedes” is a bit too slow; the rhythm doesn’t really capture the feeling of hammer on anvil.

VOL. 7, which came out two years later, belonged entirely to Thomas E. Bauer, and as usual he is magnificent in both voice and interpretation. The CD begins with the more famous Op. 39 Liederkreis, which includes both versions of “In der Fremde,” “Die Stille,” “Mondnacht” and “Wehmut.” Interestingly, of the 3 Songs Op. 31, he only does the first, “Die Löwenbraut,” even though the CD only runs 56:07 and so could easily have fit the other two songs on it. Bauer sings “Mondnacht” beautifully, but once again Hielscher’s accompaniment is just a bit too slow as well as mannered, adding a broad, slow phrasing to the opening section of the song and again in the piano postlude. I found myself missing Gerald Moore’s style of accompaniment. Although he does an excellent job on “Sonntags am Rhein,” the song’s tessitura stretches his low range to the limit since he is essentially a high baritone and not a deep one. Sadly, this was his last recording in this series.

We then had to wait six years for VOL. 8 to emerge, and her we have an entirely new cast of singers: soprano Anna Palimina, contralto Marion Eckstein, tenor Simon Bode and bass-baritone Matthias Hoffmann. This disc covers only three excerpts from Minnespiel and both books of Spanish songs, thus you get all three singers performing together most of the time. They all have pretty good voices though Palimina has a somewhat fluttery voice and her highest notes are a bit strained at full volume and Bode sounds like a “character singer” and Hoffmann is just a step or two higher than that. Eckstein and Hoffmann, however, have excellent technique, and in their solo excursions they prove that they are good interpreters if not on Bauer’s level.

VOL. 9: Here we not only switch singers once again, getting baritone Detlef Roth, but also switch pianists from Hielscher to Ulrich Eisenlohr. Roth has a light baritone voice, even lighter than Bauer’s, that is unsteady with poor breath support. Although he is an interesting interpreter, this is clearly the poorest disc in the series. I seriously doubt that many Schumann lovers “snapped this disc up,” particularly since most of these songs are available in far superior versions by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. It was also pretty dumb to give “Die nonne,” a song for a woman, to a baritone.

VOL. 10: Lots of duets, mostly between soprano Caroline Melzer and mezzo Anke Vondung. The former has a fluttery voice, but the latter is excellent. Tenor Simon Bode also returns on this one. Some of the performances are excellent but others are not, so this one is a mixed bag.

So there you are, fully up to date on the Naxos Schumann Lied Edition with Vol. 11, the last one, yet to come. Vols. 1-7 are very good to superb, but the last two leave something to be desired.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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