Schumann: Frauenliebe und -leben; Lieder, Op. 36; Lieder-Album für die Jugend (excerpts)

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Forlane
WORKS: Frauenliebe und -leben; Lieder, Op. 36; Lieder-Album für die Jugend (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Margaret Price (soprano), Thomas Dewey (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: UCD 16711 DDD (distr. Butler)
The French contralto Nathalie Stutzmann’s voice is a magnificent instrument with a range that must stretch a good three octaves; the bass of her tessitura is profound and resonant, and her top notes are steady and impeccably modulated. The trouble here is that her attention is focused not on the words (or, more specifically, their meaning), but on the music – a failing that may seem trivial in principle but which is dull to listen to. Her Liederkreis has none of the ethereal sense of mystery that usually pervades the cycle: only a gloomy and ultimately tiresome sense of doom. She fares no better in the four sets of Lieder und Gesänge that follow. By track 32, the songs have amalgamated into one dreary amorphous mass. Catherine Collard provides rather leaden accompaniment. A disc, then, for connoisseurs of contraltos rather than lovers of Schumann.

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Happily none of the above criticisms applies to Margaret Price’s new recording of the Frauenliebe und -leben and other lieder. Any fears that her quintessentially operatic vocal style might overwhelm these intrinsically delicate songs are unfounded. Her tone throughout is exquisite: bright, fresh, girlish and, above all, moving in its ability to convey ecstasy as well as despair.

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The American pianist Thomas Dewey is a sensitive collaborator and a pleasure to listen to. Claire Wrathall