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Robert Schumann: Liederkreis, Op. 39 – Frauenliebe und -leben, Op. 42 – Three songs from Myrthen, Op. 25 – Der Soldat, Op. 40, No. 3 – Er ist's, Op. 79, No. 24 – Mignon, Op. 79, No. 29

Marjana Lipovsek (mezzo-soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)
Recorded Konzerthaus, Mozartsaal, Vienna (4-6 October 1993) – 65’20
Newton Classics 8802198 – Notes in English; no texts

The disk contains two of Schumann’s collections from his epic “Year of Song” (1840, when the 30-year-old composer was eagerly anticipating his marriage to the 21-year-old Clara Wieck). Liederkreis (the title simply means “Song Cycle” - he wrote two with this uninformative title, the other being Opus 24, also from the same year) is written to poetry by Joseph von Eichendorff, one of the central figures of German romanticism. It is more a collection of songs rather than a cycle in that it doesn’t tell a story. It contains some of Schumann’s most beloved songs, all very nicely expressed here.

Frauenliebe und -leben (“A woman’s love and life”) is a true cycle in that its eight songs recount a young woman falling in love, marrying, enjoying motherhood, and then experiencing the pain of widowhood. Ms Lipovsek deftly expresses the various moods - she is right up there with, to cite one great example, Lois Marshall.

The other six songs on the disk include four from 1840 and two from 1849 when Schumann created his second great outpouring of song. They are performed in an order that would make a nice “bouquet” in a recital.

The recording was made while Graham Johnson was in the midst of his epochal project recording all the songs of Franz Schubert for the Hyperion label. He has subsequently gone on to record the complete songs of Schumann, Brahms and most recently, Poulenc. I don’t know how significant it is that Marjana Lipovsek was not used for any of the Hyperion projects. His recordings have been hailed not only for their musical qualities but also for his insightful essay accompanying with each issue, not to mention full texts and translations. This recording has a decent little essay, but no texts whatsoever. Anyone with a bit of a lieder collection probably has recordings of these songs on other discs with texts (as do I), but the lack is worth noting. It’s a barrier to a listener’s full enjoyment of the disk, especially if the listener is exploring the literature for the first time.

As it stands, this is an accomplished recording, even though it captures two top-notch performers at a bit less than their peak. There are spots where Ms Lipovsek’s voice loses its warmth has an aged sound, and Mr Johnson isn’t always at his considerable best; for example, the postlude to Fruenliebe und -leben is taken so slowly that there are gaps in the phrasing.

Newton Classics is a Dutch label with an interest in reissuing worthy CDs that have been dropped by their originating labels, in this instance Sony. This is an admirable idea as there is a vast archive awaiting the light of day.

Michael Johnson




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