Schumann: Das Paradies und die Peri

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Das Paradies und die Peri
PERFORMER: Dorothea Röschmann, Christoph Strehl, Malin Hartelius, Rebecca Martin, Bernarda Fink, Christian Gerhaher, Werner Güra; Bavarian Radio Chorus & SO/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 88697 27155 2 (hybrid CD/SACD)


Das Paradis und die Peri, from Thomas Moore’s epic Lalla Rookh, is not unknown Schumann – more like unfashionable. An immense success at its premiere – even reconciling his ghastly father‑in‑law – it fell quickly into neglect. Throughout the 20th century, with Schumann pigeonholed as a miniaturist, it remained largely a curiosity. More recently some worthy recordings, including Jordan’s and Sinopoli’s, challenged this attitude; but the real revelation, with its quicksilver pacing and airy textures, was John Eliot Gardiner’s (on Archiv). It’s against him that every new recording must be measured. Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s previous excursions into Romantic repertoire, in particular Freischütz, have always seemed to me too foursquare, devoid of atmosphere and magic. This is better, much more fluent and eloquent, and with the advantage of SACD surround-sound, so ideal for large-scale choral works. It isn’t as airy and open as the best, though, and Harnoncourt’s performance still sounds rather opaque and heavy‑handed. Nor does his cast, with regulars from his Swiss recordings, quite match Gardiner’s. Bernarda Fink’s fine Angel is in better voice for Gardiner, while Christoph Strehl’s Narrator sounds rather dry next to Christoph Prégardien. Hartelius and Güra even the honours somewhat. But though Dorothea Röschmann sings the Peri with spirit and feeling, Barbara Bonney simply leaves her standing, for example in her great eruption of joy. In the choral finale Röschmann’s high notes almost vanish; Bonney soars ecstatically above it. Gardiner also adds the gentle Requiem for Mignon and Nachtlied, and an accurate Moore-based translation, where RCA’s is leadenly approximate.Michael Scott Rohan