PERFORMER: Renée Fleming (soprano) Christoph Eschenbach (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 455 294-2
Rumour has it that Decca’s producer persuaded Renée Fleming to focus on Schubert’s best-known songs for her first Lieder recital. The only comparative rarity which remains of the armful she initially brought with her is the beautiful and still underestimated 15-minute ‘Viola’. So what does Fleming bring to the other 13 songs, already so well represented in the catalogue?
First, of course, her voice: a soprano of golden beauty, robust health and keen imagination. And excellent German. Fleming’s sense of theatre ensures that dramas of the soul like ‘Gretchen’ and ‘Die junge Nonne’ are played out on a stage wide and deep enough for the voice to take wing, even if greater rhythmic definition would turn the screw even tighter.
For many listeners, though, the greatest wonders will be found in the songs of quiet reflection, for which Fleming chooses often daringly slow tempi. The footfall of ‘Im Frühling’ is hushed, awed: this is emotion recollected both in tranquillity and in the languor of melancholy. The voice’s ability to sustain and finely shade the melodic line in ‘Nacht und Träume’ and ‘Du bist die Ruh’ is indeed remarkable; though, combined with Christoph Eschenbach’s ubiquitous ritenuti, the simplicity which is the supreme art of these songs can come perilously near to being threatened by expressive overkill. Hilary Finch