Although Hyperion have given us the complete lieder
of Robert Schumann, with Graham Johnson as guide, this hasn’t
prevented them from issuing this stand-alone recital from the
exciting Canadian baritone, Gerald Finley. As will be evident
from the track listing, all but one of the songs on his programme
come from 1840, his annus mirabilis, during which he
composed a copious number of songs and, of course, finally married
his beloved Clara.
The chosen songs vary quite widely in scope and sentiment but
to them all Finley brings his intelligence and his splendid
vocal accomplishment. His voice is produced evenly throughout
its compass; he has an enviably smooth legato and also abundant
The legato capability is on display, for example, in the first
couple of stanzas of ‘Abends am Strand’. It’s a strange song
but Finley responds well to its varied moods. He’s also well
suited to a rather different song, ‘Die beiden Grenadiere’.
This put me in mind a bit of some of Mahler’s military offerings
in Des Knaben Wunderhorn and in the last two verses
Schumann employs the tune of the ‘Marseillaise’. Finley clearly
relishes the ballad, ‘Belsatzar’, which relates the story of
Belshazzar’s Feast, albeit rather less elaborately than Walton
did. By contrast, he’s gently rapt in ‘Die Lotosblume’ and in
‘Du bist wie eine Blume’.
To be honest, I think there are a couple of songs which aren’t
exactly out of Schumann’s top drawer. One such is ‘Die feindlichen
Brüder’, which I find rather dull. I’m also somewhat underwhelmed
by ’Der arme Peter’, a collection of three short, linked songs.
The poetry seems a rather odd choice to set and only in the
third item in the set, ‘Der arme Peter wankt vorbei’, a slow
funeral march, does Schumann really hit anything like his top
No such reservations about Dichterliebe, but before
that Finley lets us hear four songs originally composed for
Dichterliebe but discarded before the collection was
published in 1844. It would have been interesting to know where
in the collection Schumann placed them but Richard Wigmore’s
very good note is silent on this point. I particularly warmed
to ‘Dein Angesicht so lieb und schön’, a beautiful setting which
is serenely sung by Finley.
Dichterliebe itself receives a splendid performance
and in this collection Finley has plenty of opportunity to display
his expressive range. Thus his seamless legato is deployed in
‘Im wunderschönen Monat Mai’, where he’s supported by some delightfully
delicate playing on the part of Julius Drake. By contrast the
breathless enthusiasm of ‘Aus meinen Tränen sprießen’ comes
across convincingly. The song is over in a flash – but it’s
very well articulated. Wind forward to ‘Ich grolle nicht’ where
Finley’s voice has all the grandeur and amplitude you could
wish for. Then immediately he lightens his voice most effectively
for ‘Und wüssten’s die Blumen, die kleinen’.
A little further on there’s an evident twinkle in Finley’s eye
as he tells the story in ’Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen’. The
following song, ‘Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen’ is a gift for
Finley’s honeyed legato. In this song he displays enviable technical
control, as does Julius Drake. To end the performance Finley
offers an imposing performance of ‘Die alten, bösen Lieder’
in which the lengthy piano postlude gives the admirable Drake
one final opportunity to shine.
Dichterliebe presents many challenges to performers.
One is that out of the sixteen songs only seven, in this performance
anyway, last for more than two minutes. Thus there is precious
little time for the performers to establish and convey the many
different moods. It seems to me that Finley and Drake are completely
successful in this respect. Indeed, both interpretatively and
technically this Dichterliebe is on a very high level.
Besides offering very high performance standards the production
values of this CD are up to Hyperion’s usual high standards.
The sound is excellent – it’s odd that no recording venue is
specified – as is the documentation. Gerald Finley is, surely,
one of the finest baritones currently before the public and
this admirable recital shows us why his stock is so high.