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Schumann: Dichterliebe, Wagner: Wesendonck Lieder - Prégardien, Gees

Schumann: Dichterliebe, Wagner: Wesendonck Lieder - Prégardien, Gees

Challenge Classics  CC 72788

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Schumann: Dichterliebe, Op. 48, 6 Gedichte von N. Lenau und Requiem, Op. 90
Wagner: Wesendonck Lieder

Christoph Prégardien (tenor)
Michael Gees (piano)


Robert Schumann was the most confessional of composers. And many of the songs from his great Liederjahr of 1840 were in essence love songs to Clara Wieck. In them he could express overtly what had been merely implicit in his piano music: his fears and longing, his passion and devotion, his pain at their separation, his vision of sexual and spiritual fulfilment, and his recurrent fears of losing her.

In Dichterliebe (‘Poet’s Love’) Op.48, he turns again to the pithy verses of Heinrich Heine’s Buch der Lieder. On one level, Dichterliebe can be heard as his most piercing recreation of the fluctuating emotions he had experienced during his long courtship of Clara. Characteristically of Schumann, it is the piano that controls the musical narrative in Dichterliebe. Characteristic, too, of Schumann’s 1840 songs is the piano postlude that encapsulates and deepens a song’s meaning. Dichterliebe takes this to the furthest extreme.

Schumann’s late Lieder have too often been dismissed as the products of an increasingly tired, sick mind. True, they tend to be more elusive than the songs of 1840, with piano parts that are often self-effacing and/or tortuously chromatic. But there are more than enough fine songs among them to challenge the cliché that Schumann’s genius declined irredeemably after the early 1840s. If the songs of 1849-52 are sometimes less ‘melodious and direct’ than their predecessors, that does not automatically make them inferior. In August 1850, Schumann set six poems by the unstable and ultimately insane Austrian poet Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850), whom he had briefly met in Vienna in 1839. Like Schumann and Wolf, Lenau spent his last years in an asylum, his mind destroyed by syphilis. Schumann was ill and dejected at the time, and his mood is reflected in these poems of satiety, oppressiveness and transience.

As a tribute to the dying poet (who he initially believed had already died), Schumann appended to the Lenau group one of his rare religious songs: Requiem, a setting of Héloïse’s lament for Peter Abelard. For this quasi-operatic music of solemn grandeur and mounting exaltation, Schumann devised a swirling keyboard accompaniment that takes its cue from the poem’s image of angelic harps. During the autumn of 1857 Wagner began a set of five songs to poems by Mathilde Wesendonck, written in evident imitation of Wagner’s hothouse Tristan manner – one of the very rare occasions when he set words other than his own. The Wesendonck Lieder, as they are now known, were revised and completed in 1858, and first performed as a cycle in July 1862 at a country house belonging to the publisher Franz Schott. Each of the songs shares with Tristan the concept of ‘endless melody’, a saturated, dissolving chromaticism – the musical emblem of unstilled desire – and a feverish, oppressive atmosphere.

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - September 13, 2019

Christoph Prégardien and Michael Gees have returned to the studio for a follow on to their successful and highly acclaimed romantic song cycles: Schubert’s ‘Die schöne Müllerin’ (Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin - Prégardien / Gees) and ‘Winterreise’ (Schubert: Winterreise - Prégardien / Gees). This time they focus on Schumann’s ‘Dichterliebe’ - for a long time the ‘chasse gardée’ of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on Deutsche Gramophon - coupled with Wagner’s five ‘Wesendonck Lieder’ WWV 91 and some lesser-known Schumann songs: 6 Gedichte von N. Lenau und Requiem, Op. 90. All in all, an interesting combination.

Prégardien is often compared with his fellow country man, Matthias Goerne, or, should I say, rather the other way around, Matthias being the younger one. Both are at the top of what Germany has to offer in this genre. There are differences though. The most obvious one being that Christoph is a Tenor and Matthias a Baritone. However, in terms of repertoire it makes no great difference as there are many overlaps. So, as is often the case, choice becomes largely a matter of one’s personal taste. I for one find Christoph the more lyrical of the two, better fine-tuned to Lieder, whereas I Matthias has more drama in his voice.

All those who cannot decide one way or the other, will find comfort in the knowledge that there are no Schubert nor Schuman song cycles of Matthias Goerne available in high resolution. And will, I’m convinced, not be disappointed when opting for Prégardien. Like in the Schubert cycles, he – and Michael Gees – are once more in top form: Deep sensitivity for the music and perceptive feeling for the poetry, combined with a perfect German recite, make this ‘Dichterliebe’ a compelling choice for any lover of one of the greatest masters of the ‘Lied’.

Wagner is a late romantic of a different nature. Being a more modernist and innovating composer, one expects to enter in different waters. This is not quite the case with his ‘Wesendonck Lieder’. Him being easily attracted to the charms of the opposite sex, Wagner remained - in that respect - as ‘traditional’ as ever. This led to our fortune of now having five poems of Mathilde Luckemeyer, set to music ‘to express his loving passion for the young and second wife of Otto Wesendonck’. These Lieder may not be altogether similar to those of Schumann, but constitute nonetheless a credible complement to his style of composing for ‘Das Lied’.

Rather than switching to operatic mood as so many others do (perhaps taking into account that at the time Wagner was working on his opera Tristan und Isolde) Prégardien’s lyrical approach continues to fascinate the listener. Written for female voice, there are several arrangements (piano and violin; chamber orchestra and soloist) but only few recordings with male interpreters. And for all I know this is the only complete and the only Super Audio version. Reason the more to be grateful for Prégardien/Gees to have it included in this recital.

Concluding the programme with the six poems of Lenau, complemented by a Requiem for this dying poet, makes this disk ‘one to have’, especially as recorded by NorthStar Recording Services in the Galaxy Studio’s at the almost unsurpassed Mol, Belgium, location.

Blangy-le-Château,
Normandy, France

Copyright © 2019 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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