Schumann: Frauenliebe und -Leben

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Astrée Auvidis Naïve
WORKS: Frauenliebe und -Leben; Liederkreis, Op. 39; Die Löwenbraut, Op. 31/1; Der Nussbaum Op. 25/3; Er Ist’s, Op. 79/23; Loreley, Op. 53/2; Widmung, Op. 25/1
PERFORMER: Marie-Nicole Lemieux (contralto), Daniel Blumenthal (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Naïve V 5159

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This well-planned recital consists of two major cycles, plus something unusual in the middle and four encores. It is founded on good material. The Canadian mezzo wowed Glyndebourne audiences this summer as Mistress Quickly in Falstaff, and here demonstrates another string to her bow.

Though it’s clear she’s not a native speaker, her German is well enunciated and she proves an excellent musician. The voice is ample and wide-ranging, with real contralto depth, though there’s no great range of colour. Her pianist is also musically scrupulous and they work in consistent unanimity, though he’s apt to be staid and static in repertoire that regularly requires a suggestion of improvisation to achieve a sense of full, early-Romantic spontaneity.

In the Op. 39 Eichendorff cycle, for instance, ‘Mondnacht’ is a touch prosaic and lacks a sense of wonder. Blumenthal doesn’t always underline the musical implications threaded through Frauenliebe und -leben, and Lemieux’s singing fails to highlight individual words in the way the greatest Lieder singers do. But there’s a solidity to her approach that makes a good deal of the epic ‘Die Löwenbraut’, a bizarre tale of a young woman mauled by a former pet lion that is then shot by her betrothed.

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Throughout the programme, Lemieux’s performances are satisfying, if not especially exciting, though a compressed recording ambience that is middle-heavy doesn’t help.Janet Baker’s 1968 recording of Frauenliebe with Geoffrey Parsons remains unsurpassed; for the Liederkreis, Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore’s 1954 account is exceptionally fine. George Hall