Schumann: Frauenliebe und -leben; Dichterliebe; Aus dem Liederbuch eines Malers

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Frauenliebe und -leben; Dichterliebe; Aus dem Liederbuch eines Malers
PERFORMER: Nathalie Stutzmann (contralto), Catherine Collard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61187 2 DDD
A tempting proposition: Schumann’s two great song-cycles, flanking his lesser-known Aus dem Liederbuch eines Malers (Songbook of a Painter), and sung by an up-and-coming Parisian contralto highly acclaimed for her work from the Baroque repertoire to Wagner. Lieder, though, is not – or not yet – for her.

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Her voice is a true contralto in the deep indigo of a Kathleen Ferrier; the voice is cultivated, its poise and pacing of each song in each cycle intelligent. But already in Frauenliebe und -leben, the hopes and fears of a woman’s love and life are held at a chill distance. An immaculately cultivated half-voice impresses, particularly in moments of melancholy and pain, but the voice never smiles, never expands into bliss. In short, Stutzmann fails to recreate in her listener the corresponding emotional states of which she sings.

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In Dichterliebe one begins to suspect that she does not feel them herself. Things are more serious here. Schumann’s sudden shifts of tempo and metre, expressing, for instance, requickening delight or a strange sense of fear in the faceof love’s mortality, misfire in Stutzmann’s hands: the ecstasyof the third song sounds more like panic. While the voice tends to exaggerate, the piano accompaniment is simply reductive in its reluctance to listen and to search out meaning, and it is flattened by an ugly recording acoustic. Hilary Finch