LABELS: Hyperion Schumann Edition
WORKS: Dichterliebe, Op. 48
PERFORMER: Christopher Maltman (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano); Polyphony/Stephen Layton
CATALOGUE NO: CDJ 33105
The latest, and fifth, volume of Schumann songs from Graham Johnson and Hyperion focuses on the poet Heinrich Heine. And the turning tides of the personal and professional relationship between composer and poet could scarcely be more shrewdly and wittily surveyed than in the introductory essay – a masterwork, even by regular Johnson standards.
That relationship is fleshed out supremely in Dichterliebe; but first comes a generous group of 20 songs, nearly all of them from Heine’s great Buch der Lieder. These include, illuminatingly, four settings by Clara Schumann; two undersung choral settings, here performed by Stephen Layton’s admirable Polyphony; and the four ‘orphan’ songs from the earlier, unpruned version of Dichterliebe. Christopher Maltman gives us an exquisitely tender ‘Dein Angesicht’, and he and Johnson enjoy the irresistibly spooky ‘Mein Wagen rollet langsam’.
And what of Dichterliebe itself? This is a performance of minute, intimate detail (note how lovingly Johnson guides in the voice, from the very opening bars), and palpable, whispered breath. Both performers take time to touch the sensuous skin of the work, lingering through its silences and its long vowels. In the grander, more monumental songs, their tendency to linger can at times deprive both the individual song and the cycle of momentum; and the fairytale vision of the penultimate song tends to remain earthbound.
I have a particular affection for Wolfgang Holzmair’s uniquely poignant and perfectly proportioned Dichterliebe (Philips); but my own benchmark remains Fischer-Dieskau’s recording with Jörg Demus, for its unsurpassed breadth and depth of response. Hilary Finch