SCHUMANN, R.: Dichterliebe, Op. 48 / Liederkreis, Op. 39 (Bluth) (Anita Keller/ Sebastian Bluth) (Naxos: 8.554219)
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Born in Zwickau, Germany, in 1810, Robert Alexander Schumann was the son of a quite affluent family. His father encouraged his musical aspirations, but died when Robert was quite young. At the age if 18 he entered the University in Leipzig, but was far from an ideal student. He persuaded his mother that he should study the piano with Friedrich Wieck, but took that too seriously and damaged his hands with extensive practice. He was a person who wanted to follow his own path, and produced a considerable quantity of piano music.
His attentions turned to Wieck's daughter, Clara, a promising concert pianist. After a legal battle with her father they were married, and it was Clara who was to earn the couple their income as a concert pianist. Robert suffered severe periods of depression, mainly brought on by his inability to find employment. That came at last in 1850 when he was appointed Director of Music in Düsseldorf. The politics there proved too much for him, as Mendelssohn had found previously, and he suffered a nervous breakdown leading to a mental asylum where he spent his last five years.
Though we now know the composer as a symphonist, it was his mass of songs - 150 composed in 1840 - that brought him the little recognition he enjoyed in his lifetime. In his symphonies he suffered the advise of others in the orchestration, which did nothing to encourage him to work on larger-scale scores.
Most of Schumann's songs are individual, many of which are short, but he did write major song cycles. Dichterliebe, which is considered as one of his finest, was completed in 1840 and is a very dramatic setting of sixteen poems from Heinrich Heinze's Buch der Lieder. In it we can often see the agony that Schumann had suffered in his attempts to mary Clara. It equally reflects his own personality oscillating between happiness and desperation. The aspect that set this apart from previous song cycles was Schumann's extensive use of the piano, which characterises the songs almost as much as the singer. It is also given extended solo passages, one of which concludes the cycle.
In that highly productive period of 1840, Schumann also completed Liederkreis. Based on the words of Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff, it is in twelve sections, and often reflects the countryside, but as with Dichterliebe it quickly moves to death. It equally dwells on silence, night and the unknown. It too contains a vital piano part, though it has a more accompanying role than in Dichterliebe.
The disc concludes with Five Lieder, a group of songs completed within a few days in 1840. It also uses the theme of love and death. No wonder poor Schumann had depressions, the texts he worked with would have driven anyone to that firing-squad that appears in the third song, Der Soldat.
Sebastian Bluth was born in Berlin in 1969, and appeared in master-classes with the great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau before taking lessons with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Peter Schreier. In 1996 he made his debut at the Schubertiade in Feldkirch to great acclaim. He has also had considerable success in the opera house. This is his first recital disc.
Anita Keller is in great demand as an accompanist, particularly in the field of vocal performances. She was born in Germany, and for some time worked as a solo pianist.
In 1985 she became the chorus riteur at the Hanns Eisler Music School in Berlin. She worked extensively with young singers, and has been the pianist at the master-classes of Schwarzkopf and Fischer-Dieskau.
Was appropriately made in the Clara Wieck Auditorium in Sandhausen, Germany, during November 1996.
The CD catalogue has numerous alternatives, though there is only one other performance which contains all three works on one disc, and that is on a full price EMI disc.
Bluth is a big prospect and at the Naxos price will be seen as a major addition to the catalogue.