Schumann: Liederalbum für die jugend, Op. 79; Klavieralbum für die Jugend, Op. 68 (selection)

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Liederalbum für die jugend, Op. 79; Klavieralbum für die Jugend, Op. 68 (selection)
PERFORMER: Felicity Lott (soprano), Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)
With his own sense of childlike wonder undimmed in adulthood, Robert Schumann had an uncanny sympathy for the mind of a child. The fruits of this absorption in childhood’s dreams and make-believe are the piquant mood-pictures and character sketches of the Klavieralbum and Liederalbum für die Jugend. As Graham Johnson points out in his typically searching notes, neither the songs nor the piano miniatures were intended to be performed in an uninterrupted sequence. And for this latest volume in his Schumann edition he interleaves the 29 numbers of the Liederalbum with 16 pieces from the Klavieralbum, often making charming, apt links between the two. Some of these are self-evident (the two Mignon numbers), others less obvious, as when a plaintive piano figure from ‘Das Käuzlein’ (The little owl) turns out to derive from the piano piece ‘Erster Verlust’. Inevitably, neither Felicity Lott nor Ann Murray muster quite the ease and freshness of a decade or more ago, and both can develop an intrusive vibrato under pressure. But for the most part their singing, and Johnson’s discerning, delicately coloured playing, give unalloyed pleasure. The simplest songs, often unpromising on the page, are done with touching ingenuousness and candour. Both singers are natural storytellers with a twinkling sense of fun, as in Ann Murray’s delightful renderings of ‘Der Sandmann’ and that comic cautionary tale ‘Die wandelnde Glocke’. Felicity Lott is equally enchanting in the glistening ‘Schneeglöckchen’, and sings the three identical verses of ‘Mignon’ (an obvious limitation of Schumann’s poignant setting) with a fine, controlled crescendo of intensity, culminating in a terrifying recreation of the waif’s journey across the Alps. Richard Wigmore