Schumann: Myrthen review – warm and poetic songs for a wedding | Andrew Clements' classical album of the week

(Sony Classical)
The second in a Schumann survey, Christian Gerhaher, Gerold Huber and Camilla Tilling deliver bright and varied recordings of songs the composer wrote for his wife

Christian Gerhaher and his regular recital partner Gerold Huber began their survey of Schumann’s songs a year ago. Their first release carefully avoided any of the well-known cycles, offering a selection of pieces that ranged across Schumann’s song-writing career, with the relatively unfamiliar Kerner Lieder, Op 35 as the centrepiece. With this second instalment, for which they are joined by the soprano Camilla Tilling, they move into more widely known territory with the 26 songs that were published in four albums under the title Myrthen (Myrtles). All were composed in 1840, the year in which, as Gerhaher writes in his penetrating liner essay, Schumann produced “a torrent of songs that until then had evidently been held back as if by a dam”. The composer presented a specially bound edition of the Myrthen songs to Clara on the eve of their wedding that year.

Schumann Myrthen Op 25 Album artwork cover

Nine poets are represented among the settings, ranging from Heine and Goethe to Byron and Burns. There is no single poetic thread running through them – as there is in Schumann’s cycles such as Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und -Leben – but Myrthen is much more than a miscellaneous collection of songs. Gerhaher demonstrates the musical links between them, suggesting that Schumann’s final ordering outlined a narrative that the composer hoped would anticipate the course of his married life.

That is clearly influenced on this recording in how the two singers share these songs equally between them, with Tilling’s bright, flexible sound a perfect foil for Gerhaher’s honeyed warmth. The contrast is established from the beginning, as Tilling opens with the best-known number among them, the Rückert setting Widmung, before Gerhaher weighs in with Goethe’s Freisinn. Highlights dotted through the disc include Gerhaher’s performance of Byron’s Aus den Hebräischen Gesängen, with its chromatic, almost Schoenbergian piano introduction, is a particular one. Overall, the disc certainly maintains the standard set by the first one.

Also out this week

Soprano Claire Booth and pianist Christopher Glynn follow up their recording of songs and piano music by Percy Grainger, released two years ago, with a similar mix devoted to a composer Grainger knew and energetically championed: Edvard Grieg. It’s built around the song cycle Haugtussa (The Mountain Maid), eight settings of poems from the verse novel by Arne Garborg, which Booth and Glynn’s vividly characterised performance shows to be a little-known gem. They frame it with interwoven sequences of songs and the solo piano work Lyric Pieces, each delivered with irrepressible energy, wit and finesse.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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