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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WORDS AND MUSIC, 11 Jun 2010
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DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Schumann: Lieder (Audio CD)
It is perfectly easy to find words for the musical experience that this set provides. It is as near absolute perfection, all 6 discs of it, as I have ever encountered in a lengthening life. Fischer-Dieskau must be, surely, one of the greatest singers there has ever been. Just as a vocalist he is wonderful, and the beautiful tone of this great voice in its prime in the 1970's seems infallible. He is fearless and majestic in a forte, but every nuance of tone is here down to the quietest, and as a bonus that you might not have been expecting there are a couple of late ballads on the last disc in which he declaims against a piano background. Obviously, his piano partner has to shoulder the musical load on his own there, so let me say that Eschenbach seems to me the perfect accompanist. By this I do not mean that you might think you were listening to the playing of Pollini. I mean simply that he is absolutely suited to what he is required to do here, which is to accompany Fischer-Dieskau in Schumann, and to help matters he is playing a superb instrument that is superbly recorded in its own right and faultlessly balanced with the singer. There is no more shyness or tentativeness in the powerful sequences from Eschenbach than there is from his great collaborator, and from as early as the Byron song on the first disc you can also hear how sensitively he handles Schumann's Innigkeit.

This is not quite all of Schumann's songs, but it is most of them. Both the liner-note writers make the point that Schumann constantly tried to group his Lieder into cycles, but the production has very rationally left out a few numbers from the collections that have not been explicitly given that title. The echt cycles are of course complete - the two Liederkreis sets and the Dichterliebe. The Frauenliebe cycle is not here, for the obvious reason (I presume) that a man should no more sing it than he should try to sing Isolde. To such extent as I understand Schumann myself - and I love him inordinately if that counts - these performers seem to me to penetrate his mind and heart utterly. Interpretative details from the comparatively mechanical such as tempo-choice to the wholly intangible have a relaxed confidence about them that seems to have its roots in a fully shared general vision and a detailed sense of what each number is about. They know not to be afraid of taking a very slow speed now and again when Schumann is at his dreamiest or most awestruck, and I hardly need say there is never the remotest suspicion of technical challenge to a singer like this, if there ever was a singer like this. The numerous march rhythms march magnificently, and as I have probably indicated there is a total and fearless lack of inhibition about any of it.

The production gives the artists the respect they deserve. All texts are given with English and French translations. In the nature of the case the print is tiny, but say for what were magnifying glasses meant. There are two German liner-notes, again with translations, from Werner Oehlmann on Schumann's main Lieder-writing period 1840-9, and from one Karl Schumann on the late songs. If Oehlmann's strikes you to start with as being gush, that is for the good and sufficient reason that it largely is gush, but even so if you slow down and show patience it is actually enlightening up to a point. Karl Schumann's is probably better, and it very properly tackles the issue, crucial to an understanding of Robert Schumann, of how the composer related to the literature of the romantic movement. Here he goes `The relationship between words and music...of prime importance to Schumann...he now cultivated with even greater intensity... Its most evident result was a style of declamation founded on literary no less than on musical principles.' I don't know about you, but that is as clear as mud to me. The relationship between words and music in a literary sense is one issue and `declamation' is something else altogether. KS rightly traces the development of literary innuendo in the musical notes from Schumann through Wagner and Wolf to the 20th century. It seems to me however that this is at least as much a matter for the piano parts as for the singer. `Declamation' is obviously a vocal matter exclusively, concerned with accentuation, lengthening of syllables, the number of notes per syllable, and above all repetition of words. A trend was developing at this time to make musical declamation conform more closely to the way words are spoken in conversation. This was thought to be a rationalising trend, but I'm not convinced. It leads to the rather limiting view, adopted by Wagner in practice, that the proper vocal declamation was a kind of recitative. There is nothing irrational about musical rhythm, just as there is nothing irrational about verse-rhythm, and in verse just as in music the conversational accentuation and the verse-ictus are in constant conflict, and rightly and naturally so. Here is a very simple example from the best English versifier of Schumann's time

The sun came up upon the left
Out of the sea came he;
And he shone bright and on the right
Went down into the sea.

Far from being rationalisation, denying oneself music's resources in word-declamation was more like impoverishment. There really is such a thing as a purely musical declamation, and you find it in Handel. In the Dettingen Te Deum `We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord' is repeated as `We Thee to be the Lord'. This is an exclusively musical device divorced from ordinary speech, but it gets little comment because it was little imitated.

Schumann did not go this way, the musical writers fluff the point, but his interpreters here have not missed any targets. Magnificent, sublime.
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Schumann: Lieder
Schumann: Lieder by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Audio CD - 2008)
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