Schumann: Myrthen; Duets, Opp. 34 & 78; John Anderson, Op. 145/4

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Myrthen; Duets, Opp. 34 & 78; John Anderson, Op. 145/4
PERFORMER: Dorothea Röschmann (soprano), Ian Bostridge (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano); Polyphony/Stephen Layton
CATALOGUE NO: CDJ 33107
Myrthen was the song cycle Schumann composed as a surprise wedding present for Clara Wieck: he told his publisher that the songs would ‘soon catch on and be sung a great deal’. Well, yes and no. Even now, singers tend to pick and choose; and, just as ‘Widmung’, Nussbaum’ and ‘Die Lotosblume’ supply many an encore, so the complete cycle is virtually absent from the recording catalogue. Now that the fine performance by Juliane Banse, Olaf Bär and Helmut Deutsch has been deleted by EMI, the Chandos recording with Lynne Dawson, Ian Partridge and Julius Drake is the only complete version available.

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So the appearance of Myrthen in Hyperion’s invaluable Schumann edition has been eagerly awaited. Dawson and Partridge brought, respectively, radiance and a somewhat diffident sensitivity to the songs: Dorothea Röschmann and Ian Bostridge provide much closer focus, lighting the songs with an ardour of response and bringing intense imaginative engagement to everything they sing.

As Rückert’s bride, in the two Lieder der Braut, Röschmann gently yet fervently reassures her mother in a closely caressed melodic line; and this, not surprisingly, is also the cue for some fascinating notes on the Wieck parental background from their accompanist Graham Johnson. The plangent core of Röschmann’s soprano is keenly tuned to the Robert Burns laments, while Bostridge irresistibly animates the Zwei Venetianische Lieder into miniature dramas, and is at his most honeyed for Schumann’s exquisite Heine settings.

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In the two sets of duets, Röschmann and Bostridge are a match for Fischer-Dieskau with Varady (DG) and Schwarzkopf (EMI); and Polyphony’s bonus performance of the partsong ‘John Anderson’ reveals a little touch of the Johnson programming genius. Hilary Finch