Schumann: Scenes from Goethe’s Faust

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Scenes from Goethe’s Faust
PERFORMER: Iwona Hossa, Christiane Libor (soprano), Anna Luba´nska, Ewa Marciniec (alto), Daniel Kirch (tenor), Jaakko Kortekangas (baritone), Andrew Gangestad (bass); Warsaw Boys’ Choir; Warsaw PO & Chorus/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572430-31

Advertisement

Goethe’s Faust has inspired innumerable composers, but none comes closer to his text in spirit and style than Schumann. Unlike others, he baulked at reducing it to an opera, instead selecting scenes he felt captured the essence of this great philosophical drama – glimpses of Faust’s seduction of Gretchen, her tragic fate, his quest for achievement, his death and redemption in Goethe’s transcendent final scene, which is much more appropriately set than in Mahler’s somewhat overblown Eighth Symphony.

It’s one of Schumann’s masterpieces, but its initial acclaim following its premiere in 1862 didn’t last. Its first recording came only in 1972, conducted by Benjamin Britten, and though presently deleted, this remains very special – almost a chamber re-orchestration, with soloists from Britten’s ‘family’.

Their strong characters – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s Faust, John Shirley-Quirk’s Mephistopheles – give it an unusually intimate, intense feel. Several others followed, but only Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s SACD is currently available, a full-scale live performance, well sung and conducted with some fluency, but distinctly slow.

Antoni Wit’s new version concedes little or nothing to Harnoncourt except sound – excellent, nevertheless – and improves on his interpretation with less mannered, more natural pacing. The soloists are also fine, especially Jaakko Kortekangas’s Faust, reminiscent of Fischer-Dieskau but silkier, and Andrew Gangestad’s Mephistopheles, though he misses Shirley-Quirk’s sardonic chill.

Advertisement

The Warsaw choruses might be less crisp at times, but correspondingly warmer, and the playing is excellent. And this is miles cheaper. Michael Scott Rohan