Schumann: Liederkreis, Op. 24

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Liederkreis, Op. 24
PERFORMER: Mark Padmore (tenor), Christopher Maltman, Jonathan Lemalu (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano); Ex Cathedra Consort
CATALOGUE NO: CDJ 33108
Schumann’s Op. 24 Liederkreis is a tremulous treasure: nine settings of Heine, with all the fragile ardour typical of the creative encounters of poet and composer – and written at a time of considerable personal insecurity, when Schumann’s marriage to Clara was not yet signed and sealed. In many ways, it’s a trickier cycle to bring off than the Op. 39 Liederkreis; and Christopher Maltman doesn’t quite succeed here.

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The crucial first song, with its archetypal sense of hovering between waking and dreaming, is a little disjointed, lacking any sense of natural, instinctive breath. And too often the songs sound heavy-handed, almost laboriously over-prepared. Maltman is best where the sheer virile strength of his baritone articulates the anger within the melancholy. But he never quite holds Schumann’s emotional secrets close enough to his heart.

Tenors seem to have a way of doing this best: as well as Peter Schreier’s classic performance on Berlin Classics, both Christoph Prégardien (RCA) and Ian Bostridge (EMI) offer sensitive, even harrowing, performances. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s 1974 recording with Christoph Eschenbach (DG) is another classic in the field. But for contemporary baritone performances, I find none better at capturing this cycle’s emotional intimacy and raw nerve-endings than Wolfgang Holzmair with Imogen Cooper (Philips) and – my personal benchmark – the very special recording by the young Stephan Genz which uniquely catches the youthful impulse of a sensibility in extremis.

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Radiating from this central Liederkreis are the real treats: a set of early songs for high voice, most beautifully sung by Mark Padmore; at least ten rarities, including the ballad-with-chorus, ‘Die rote Hanne’; and Jonathan Lemalu irresistible as Eichendorff’s ‘Happy Wanderer’ and as Feste in Schumann’s Twelfth Night ‘Schlusslied’. Hilary Finch