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Album für die frau

Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano) (BIS)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Album für die frau
C Schumann: Selected songs from Opp. 12, 13 & 23; R Schumann: Frauenliebe und -leben; Selected songs from Opp. 25, 35, 40, 51, 90, 127 & 142; Piano pieces from Opp. 15 & 68
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)
BIS BIS-2473 (CD/SACD)   71:46 mins


‘How does one perform Frauenliebe und -leben today?’ asks Natasha Loges in her essay accompanying this thoughtful re-think. Adelbert von Chamisso’s verses exploring women’s supposed emotional subservience to men, (‘I shall serve him, live for him’) are incontestably troublesome. Should the sentiments be regarded as merely ‘of their time’? Or might they be interrogated with off-setting perspectives? Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton have an ingenious solution: they divide Op. 42 into self-contained sections interleaved with complementary songs by Robert and Clara Schumann, as well as some of Robert’s piano miniatures. Clara herself used to ‘pick and mix’ so there’s precedent as well as imagination and sensitivity at work.

But is Frauenliebe a cycle or simply a sequence? The exquisite piano epilogue brings the music literally full circle, leaving no doubt; and the interventions, while expanding the emotional terrain, inevitably disrupt Robert’s musical scheme. Can, (or indeed should) anything follow the piano’s aching adieu? If the heart says ‘no’, the head is less disturbed by the inspired choice: Requiem from Op. 90.

Indeed on repeated listening, any initial feelings of ‘sacrilege’ increasingly yield to admiration for the compelling empathy that underpins this whole re-imagining. Often glorious, the singing isn’t consistently persuasive, though Sampson’s default restraint doesn’t preclude a feistily tempestuous ‘Lust der Sturmnacht’. The playfulness of ‘Der Sandmann’ emboldens her renowned silvery delicacy and the utter desolation at the end of Frauenliebe’s last song is heart-rending. Middleton is a magician of moods, his wonderfully enriching rubato the lynchpin of a disc that, ultimately, posts a balance-redressing love letter to Robert and Clara.


Paul Riley