Reine de coeur
R Schumann: Sechs Gesänge, Op. 107; Sechs Gedichte und Requiem, Op. 90; Poulenc: La courte paille; Fiançailles pour rire; Zemlinsky: Walzer-Gesänge
Hanna-Elisabeth Müller (soprano); Juliane Ruf (piano)
Pentatone PTC 5186 810 66.24 mins
There are times, as a critic, when one feels rather like some old, dusty, scratched 78 in whose grooves the needle gets stuck. In the present instance this is provoked not by the Schumann songs (while I don’t share the singer’s enthusiasm for his Sechs Gesänge, the Requiem that closes this recital is a masterpiece and beautifully sung and played), nor by the six Zemlinsky songs, which I was glad to be introduced to. In the Poulenc songs, too, there is much that is excellent. Hanna-Elisabeth Müller has a lovely voice and Juliane Ruf’s accompanying is some of the best I’ve heard in a while. No, it’s the slow Poulenc songs that set my needle rattling round.
In both the song cycles here Poulenc has not only indicated metronome marks, but actually given an ideal duration for each of the 13 songs. I suppose we might agree that a latitude of some 10 per cent either way would be acceptable, even 20 per cent at a pinch? But in La courte paille, where Poulenc gives ‘Les anges musiciens’ a duration of 1’07”, here it lasts 1’56”. By my calculations that’s an excess of some 73 per cent – and as a result the song sags hopelessly.
Stravinsky famously said, ‘My music can stand anything except being played at the wrong speed.’ With my last spin of the 78 I ask why, in six of his songs, ignore Poulenc’s specific instructions? Modern education’s stress on ‘personal fulfilment’ has a lot to answer for. Roger Nichols