Schumann: Das Paradies und der Peri; Requiem

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: DG Archiv
WORKS: Das Paradies und der Peri; Requiem
PERFORMER: Soloists; Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre Révolutionnare et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 457 660-2
There’s a growing interest in Schumann’s choral music, and this set brings together two of his most important works in the field with an intriguing piece that here receives its first recording. This is the Nachtlied, a late (1849) setting of a troubled text by Hebbel that draws from the composer a menacing vision of nocturnal disquiet succeeded by an almost mystical sense of protection.

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From the same year comes the Requiem für Mignon, based on a passage in the novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre in which the death of Goethe’s child-heroine is mourned. The tenderness and sobriety of the piece are compromised by the often foursquare nature of its musical ideas, but despite a certain rigidity of pulse it moves nicely, and with shapely phrasing, under Gardiner’s direction.

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The biggest piece is the earlier secular oratorio Das Paradies und die Peri, which sets a version of a poem by the Romantic Irish writer Thomas Moore about a peri (a sort of good genie) twice denied admittance to Paradise but finally successful when she brings the tears of a penitent criminal moved by the sight of a child at prayer. Not surprisingly, charges of that vaguest of artistic crimes — sentimentality — have been levelled both at Schumann’s setting and Moore’s original, but more germane are the attractive colouristic effects the composer achieves in this graceful if only fitfully memorable score. Gardiner’s version comes with excellent soloists and a strong sense of drama, but those preferring a non-period-instrument orchestra should try the account by the Dresden Staatskapelle under Sinopoli. George Hall