Schumann: Liederkreis, Op. 39; Dichterliebe

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Liederkreis, Op. 39; Dichterliebe
PERFORMER: Werner Güra (tenor), Jan Schultsz (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901766
Was Werner Güra’s fine Die schöne Müllerin just a one-off? I do hope not; but nothing I have heard from the Bavarian tenor since, either live or on disc, has come near it, and this latest Schumann release is no exception.

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Güra’s strength lies in his seductive legato line, and right from the start of the Liederkreis this is apparent. But the expressive use to which it is put remains one-dimensional. There is sadness and yearning aplenty; but little sense of trembling anticipation; still less of being gripped by the throat in the dark wood of the poet Eichendorff’s imagination. It is Güra’s imagination, rather than his voice, that is at fault: there’s little difference, for instance, between the colours of slowness in his ‘Wehmut’ and his ‘Zwielicht’.

Güra is not helped by his accompanist Jan Schultsz, who drags back already sluggish tempi and overheats a blustery ‘Frühlingsnacht’. It is Schultsz, too, who spoils this Dichterliebe. Both he and Güra pull the melodic line back and forth (usually back) in effortful rubato rather than with easeful breath. Pacing is erratic both within and between songs, and expressive points are unsubtly, even awkwardly, made.

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The catalogue is teeming with preferable versions of both cycles. For the Liederkreis, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s performance with Christoph Eschenbach, concentrated and wonderfully sentient, has hardly been surpassed. Fischer-Dieskau is also hard to beat in Dichterliebe (his 1967 performance with Jörg Demus has my vote); but, among Güra’s contemporaries, I also hold dear the fragrant, minutely affecting performance by Wolfgang Holzmair and Imogen Cooper on Philips. Hilary Finch