Schumann: Romances & Ballads, Opp. 67, 69, 75, 91, 145 & 146

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Hänssler faszinationmusik
WORKS: Romances & Ballads, Opp. 67, 69, 75, 91, 145 & 146
PERFORMER: Stuttgart SWR Vocal Ensemble/Rupert Huber
CATALOGUE NO: CD 93.002
Ignored by many a study of Schumann’s songs, and by most performers, the composer’s choral settings have been unfairly sidelined for too long. Schumann himself, as a choral conductor in Dresden, wrote these Romanzen und Balladen to be, in Britten’s words, ‘useful, and to the living’; yet they also provided him with a timely therapeutic means of regaining confidence in his creative powers after a run of difficult years.

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Writing for choir emboldened Schumann to set two Goethe poems which hovered dangerously in the shadow of his beloved Schubert: the Op. 67 setting of ‘Der König von Thule’ has a haunting, chorale-like solemnity disturbed by unsettling inner voices; and this ‘Heidenröslein’ is charmed by a halting yet ardent diffidence.

And Schumann was inspired to revisit, some 10 years on, Eichendorff’s ‘Im Walde’, originally set in his Op. 39 Liederkreis, and to add picturesque echo effects to this fleeting vision of a wedding procession deep in the forest. More delicately tinted tableaux are created in the Op. 146 group, with the transient, scented breaths of ‘Sommerlied’ and the (fog?-)horn acccompanied ‘Das Schifflein’.

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The lively and vivid enunciation of the SWR Vocal Ensemble makes every word clearly audible, even in Schumann’s most athletic melodies and complex textures; but non-German speakers will be disappointed by the lack of song texts. Hilary Finch