Schumann: Goethe’s Faust (excerpts)

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WORKS: Goethe’s Faust (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone), Karita Mattila, Barbara Bonney (soprano), Jan-Hendrik Rootering (bass), Endrik Wottrich (tenor), Iris Vermillion (mezzo-soprano)Tölz Boys Choir, Swedish Radio Choir, Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado
Schumann’s treatment of Goethe is a curiously uneven work, composed at various stages in the last decade of his life. Parts 1 and 2 consist of dramatic scenes, which lie somewhere between opera and oratorio, rather as in Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust; but Schumann’s third part takes the music on to an altogether higher plane, setting the mystical final scene from Goethe’s poem (the same text Mahler used in his Eighth Symphony). Recordings and performances of the complete work are rare, partly because of its length (nearly two hours) and the need for multiple soloists (ten in this performance); so this exceptionally fine new Sony set, recorded ‘live’ at Berlin concerts last year, is very welcome indeed.


Bryn Terfel is an ideally ardent, troubled Faust, and sings a large amount of music with consummate authority. Mattila makes us feel for Gretchen, and the ensemble numbers are led by Barbara Bonney’s silvery high soprano. The choral singing (Swedish choirs prepared by the legendary Eric Ericson) is simply outstanding, as are the Tölz Boys Choir’s lusty contributions. Most importantly of all, Claudio Abbado conducts with flair and also with great sensitivity, and the members of the orchestra respond as if they believe in every note. If this set doesn’t win an award, there’s no justice in the world.