Schumann: Liederkreis, Op. 24; Kerner Lieder; Belsazar; Lieder, Opp. 127 (excerpts) & 142

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Liederkreis, Op. 24; Kerner Lieder; Belsazar; Lieder, Opp. 127 (excerpts) & 142
PERFORMER: Christoph Prégardien (tenor); Michael Gees (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 73235 2
There is something extraordinarily seductive about this new Schumann disc from Christoph Prégardien and Michael Gees – newly released, yet recorded all of six years ago. Schumann’s almost unbearably fragile and vulnerable early Liederkreis, Op. 24, his music dreaming its way through the elusive mood changes of Heine’s poetry, is approached with the tenderest care. Prégardien’s warm and gentle legato and Gees’s piano-playing recreate the sense of the composer day-dreaming at the piano, yet with an enhanced alertness and sentience to every nerve of the poetry.

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This performance is well-nigh benchmark material itself. But at the sixth song, Prégardien just fails to find the store of lacerating anger and angst within that ‘fountain of blood’ in which Heine – and Schumann, it seems – write their script. Suddenly, the ear recalls the nerve-baring 1997 performance of Ian Bostridge (EMI) who, alone of all recorded artists, turns the song’s exclamation of ‘Oh!’ into a real yelp of pain.

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For Schumann’s settings of Kerner, too, Prégardien and Gees are up there at the top. Few tenors ever take on these dark songs – and the obvious comparisons here are with baritones Simon Keenlyside (Hyperion) and Matthias Goerne (Decca). It takes a baritone, perhaps, to recreate the full eloquence and surprise of the head voice as the nun speaks in ‘Stirb, Lieb und Freud!’; and, despite the real poignancy of Prégardien’s tenor and its thrilling connivances and collisions with Gees’s piano-playing, Goerne does have a uniquely special feeling for the sombre, visionary mysticism of these songs which still remains unsurpassed. Hilary Finch