LABELS: EMI Double Forte
PERFORMER: Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano), Geoffrey Parsons, Daniel Barenboim (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CZS 5 73836 2 ADD Reissue (1976-82)
Janet Baker’s reading of Schumann’s Eichendorff Liederkreis is one of the most searching in the catalogue. Her subtly coloured mezzo-soprano, in its glorious prime, is an ideal voice for this cycle of half-lights and shadows; and she finds the perfect weight and colour for each of Schumann’s vignettes while shaping the cycle into a cohesive whole. She and Barenboim, an ever-perceptive partner, favour some unusually broad tempi, especially in a hypnotically intense performance of ‘Wehmut’, and in the two songs entitled ‘In der Fremde’, here touched with tragedy rather than mere pathos. At the other end of the spectrum, few singers have brought such an impassioned, ecstatic sweep to ‘Schöne Fremde’ and the final ‘Frühlingsnacht’.
Baker’s gift for locating what is individual and specific in a song makes the Mendelssohn and Liszt collections almost equally satisfying. I say ‘almost’, because by 1979-80 her tone is inclined to become curdled and discoloured under pressure. Still, there are many memorable things in these often underrated songs. Richard Wigmore