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S & H Recital Review

Wolfgang Holzmair baritone Imogen Cooper piano Lieder by Robert & Clara Schumann Wigmore Hall 21 March 2002 and on CD (PGW)

No regular partnership can assure greater pleasure than Holzmair Cooper, whose newly released CD of a nearly identical programme, recorded in Vienna 1998, arrived for review a few days earlier. In concert the 12 Kerner Lieder Op.35 came first before the interval; on the CD, the other way round. Philips' organisation of its comprehensive booklet has the tracks not ascribed to husband or wife as you follow the words, which makes a telling point; it is not immediately obvious who composed each song. Robert was supportive and encouraging to his wife (far more than Mendelssohn to his sister) and there are some lovely little known songs by both of them in this sequence, which avoids more than a very few of the best known ones, e.g. Robert's Der Nussbaum.

The CD has an unusual intimacy, indeed at first sampling the piano sounded strangely muted, as if there was a veil over the microphone. But checking with some of our (five) listening posts demonstrated what should never be lost sight of, that reviews of recording quality are extremely subjective as there is so much scope for changing tonal balance, e.g. on my DVD/CD player heard through the five speakers of a new TV. Nonetheless, I do feel that at Wigmore Hall, a couple of years on, the performances were a little more expansive, judging the acoustics of the famous auditorium to perfection, Holzmair allowing his higher tones to ring in an engaging and very personal manner and, without trying too hard, he nuanced the texts with a subtlety which delighted my Swiss-German born wife. Nor did he eschew gestures that would have scored minus points in a Lieder singing competition, but those he allowed himself felt natural and unforced.

Insufficient time to specify their handling of particular songs (details on the Wigmore Hall website) nor any need; for me, it was a more purely pleasurable recital than others given there recently by top-notch singers of the current generation (e.g. Bostridge and Goerne) and the CD is there for you to savour the interpretations - Philips 462 610-2.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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