Schumann: Der Rose Pilgerfahrt; Nachtlied

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LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: Der Rose Pilgerfahrt; Nachtlied
PERFORMER: Camilla Nylund (soprano), Rainer Trost (tenor) , Andreas Schmidt (baritone), Claudia Schubert (contralto), Jochen Kupfer, Anke Hoffmann, Simone Kermes; Chorus Musicus Köln, Das Neue Orchester/Christoph Spering


Although designated an oratorio, Der Rose Pilgerfahrt resolutely avoids the theatricality and sanctimoniousness that plague so many other 19th-century examples of the genre. Essentially a skilfully devised sequence of 24 lyrical song and choral movements, it is surely one of the finest of Schumann’s Düsseldorf works, triumphantly refuting the tired argument that the composer suffered a severe decline in creative inspiration during his final years. Apart from the distinctive melodic content and some unusually bold, almost Tristan-esque harmonies in the penultimate number, the most noticeable aspect of the oratorio remains its wonderfully transparent and imaginative orchestration. Indeed, Schumann’s orchestral mastery is all the more surprising, given the fact that the work was originally conceived with piano accompaniment and that the composer found the task of orchestrating the material particularly burdensome. From the dark and sinister brass textures of the Gravedigger’s Scene to the ethereal sounds of the final Chorus, there is little doubt that the wide breadth of colour is enhanced by the use of period instruments in this recording. But the performance is also distinguished by the strength and sensitivity of the vocal soloists and by Spering’s intimate yet convincing pacing of the drama. The inclusion of the earlier and inexplicably neglected Nachtlied provides a marvellous bonus to a treasurable disc. Erik Levi