Schumann – Frauenliebe und -leben

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Frauenliebe und -leben; Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart; Sieben Lieder, Op. 104; Sechs Gesänge, Op. 107
PERFORMER: Sibylla Rubens (soprano), Uta Hielscher (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557078

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I’m sorry to report that the fifth volume in Naxos’s complete Schumann Lieder series is a bit of a disappointment. There are so many excellent recordings of Frauenliebe und -leben currently available that expectations are necessarily high – and this performance really fails to make the grade.

Sibylla Rubens’s light soprano makes light of the shadows within the cycle’s emotional life. This is a simple girl singing her heart out; but where is the sense of wonder, apprehension, rapture – and finally grief?

Rubens sings with an attractively fresh tone and clear enunciation, but is as cavalier about the cycle’s expressive nuances as her accompanist is in the expressively short-changed piano preludes and postludes.

Rubens’s vocal qualities and interpretative approach are unquestionably better suited to the gentle pathos and sentiment of Schumann’s Op. 104 settings of the poet Elisabeth Kulmann, who died at the young age of 17. An almost Schubertian address to a swallow, and an airborne ditty about a siskin bring out the avian best in her fresh soprano, which is also well cast in the reticent sorrows of the Op. 107.

Without exception, the Maria Stuart songs sound best in the mezzo range; and, again, Rubens and Uta Hielscher are musically fluent, but expressively reductive.

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For more thoughtful, searching performances of Frauenliebe und -leben, you have only to look to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (Wigmore Hall Live, reviewed in December) and Sarah Connolly (Chandos, reviewed in November) – though to my mind, Dame Janet Baker’s interpretation of this repertoire continues to remain unsurpassed. Hilary Finch