Schumann, Clara Schumann, Brahms

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Clara Schumann,Schumann
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Liederkreis, Op. 24; Lieder; Deutsche Volkslieder
PERFORMER: Werner Güra (tenor), Christoph Berner (piano), Meriam Abbas (narrator)
Just the thing for a winter’s evening: Werner Güra, Christoph Berner and the actress Meriam Abbas have devised a semi-staged concert programme celebrating the ‘artistic trinity’ of Johannes Brahms and Robert and Clara Schumann. This handsomely presented disc, complete with extracts from the composers’ letters to each other, invites us to an hour of intimate eavesdropping. The fourth player is a Friedrich Ehrbar piano of 1877, and its sweet tone and quickness of response enables Berner to provide the lightest of cross-currents to Güra’s springing, singing line in Brahms’s ten German Folksongs. Güra captures the disarming directness of seven of Clara Schumann’s songs: his tense, taut rhythmic articulation superbly whips up the stormy passions of ‘Er ist gekommen’. But the wonder of this recital is Güra’s and Berner’s Schumann Op. 24 Liederkreis. Few recordings in the catalogue recreate so perfectly the fleetness of spirit, the elusive longing, impetuous excitement and anger within these tiny cameos of emotion. Their pacing is revelatory: one of the most magical moments is when Güra’s unusually slow ‘Lieb’ Liebchen’ breathes effortlessly into the tender farewells of ‘Schöne Wiege’. Among tenor recordings, Christoph Prégardien’s performance from 1995 (RCA) is one of the most beautifully sung in recent years. And, until pipped from their post, Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake (EMI) have been, for me, leaders in the high-voice field. But Güra has all Bostridge’s raw angst and sweetly elusive spirit, with the less self-conscious instinct of a native German speaker. Hilary Finch