Schumann: Dichterliebe (adapted Uri Caine); Piano Quartet in E flat, Op. 47

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Winter & Winter
WORKS: Dichterliebe (adapted Uri Caine); Piano Quartet in E flat, Op. 47
PERFORMER: La Gaia Scienza; Uri Caine Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 910 049-2
Following his ironic, contemporary takes on Wagner and Mahler, Uri Caine here sets about deconstructing Schumann’s Dichterliebe. The upshot is, by turns and according to taste, touching, witty, saccharine, grotesque and plain pretentious. Each song, sung in English translation, receives a more or less radical new slant, in styles that encompass soul (the opening ‘Im wunderschönen Monat Mai’, where vocalist Mark Ledford is counterpointed with a ghostly synthesized glass harmonica), scat (‘Ich will meine Seele tauchen’, ‘Ein Jüngling liebt’ ein Mädchen’) and cutting-edge jazz, as in the coolly inventive keyboard improvisations on ‘Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen’. Several numbers are overlaid with readings of erotic poetry by Julie Patton (who murmurs orgasmically through the first song and ‘Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen’), Shulamith Wechter Caine and (in Japanese, with no translation provided) Mariko Takahashi. ‘Im Rhein’ and the penultimate ‘Aus alten Märchen’ are turned into parodic Gothic nightmares, with the distorted vocal lines undercut by monstrous gurglings and grunts. And so on. I’m not sure what it told me about Schumann. But Caine’s clever concoction, at once irreverent and affectionate, should intrigue, say, fans of Radio 3’s Mixing It.

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This postmodern Dichterliebe fantasy is, bafflingly, interleaved with the four movements of Schumann’s Piano Quartet played on period instruments by La Gaia Scienza – maybe part of Caine’s attempt to create a sense of ironic distancing and dislocation. Or not. Comparisons are irrelevant here, though the playing, crisp and clean of texture, is stronger on physical energy than subtlety and warmth: the gorgeous slow movement, in particular, is clear-eyed and metrical to a fault. The packaging is as lavish as previous issues from this avant-garde label, though I’d willingly have swapped some of the arty sepia photographs for a note about the music and Caine’s own thoughts on his deconstruction of Schumann. Richard Wigmore