Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Ballade vom Pagen und der Königstochter Op. 140 [32:03]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantata BWV 105 Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht (arr. Schumann, 1849) [21:02]
Adventlied Op. 71 [17:29]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Ülle Tuisk (soprano), Benno Schachtner (countertenor), Werner Güra (tenor), Cornelius Uhle, Jonathan Sells (bass)
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Helsinki Baroque Orchestra/Aapo Häkkinen
rec. Hyvinkää Hall, Finland, 2017
Adventlied: world premiere recording
ONDINE ODE1312-2 [70:56]
The four choral ballads of Robert Schumann have not fared well on disc. I remember enjoying Bernhard Klee’s two record set from EMI, a set that was short lived on CD, and something that has eluded me so far. Since then, Chandos has recorded two of them in what was announced as a complete series presenting each of the symphonies with one of the choral ballads. Sadly they did not get past the first two volumes (CHAN9760, CHAN 9846) and even these have now been deleted. This is a shame, as I really enjoyed the performances under Michael Schønwandt and his Danish forces, especially of the Ballade vom Pagen und der Königstochter, which is recorded here.
There are a few differences between the two performances. The principal one is that Häkkinen uses the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, something that brings light to Schumann’s orchestration in the same way that John Eliot Gardiner did with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in the symphonies (457 591). He also employs sopranos rather than the mezzo-sopranos used by Schønwandt. This goes well with the lighter texture of the orchestral playing. Moreover, Carolyn Sampson shines. Indeed, all the soloists are on fine form, as are the chorus and orchestra. The extensive notes by Aapo Häkkinen explains that the orchestra is laid out in the nineteenth century fashion, with violins split left and right. The recording is excellent, and it really brings out the full drama of the work. So, too, does Schønwandt’s, so your choice will depend on your preference for nineteenth or twentieth century performing practice. I Personally, while enjoying the Schønwandt very much, would go for the greater clarity of this new recording. It is probably nearer to how Schumann himself would have experienced it. I can only hope that Aapo Häkkinen and his forces will be given the opportunity to record the other three choral ballads.
Originally composed for the ninth Sunday after Trinity, 25th July 1723, Bach’s cantata Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht was, according to Albert Schweitzer, a “monumental music-drama”. Schumann loved the music of Bach and repeatedly studied scores of the earlier composer’s music. In the case of BWV 105 he even made an arrangement for voices and chamber ensemble for his Chorgesangverein in Dresden. This was first performed in the city in July 1849. Whilst I knew of this work, I have never heard it on disc. I was therefore interested to hear this arrangement of music by Schumann’s idol. The result is sympathetic to the original and in some ways sounds like early, pre-original instrument school, recordings of Bach. However, there is much more to Schumann’s input. He tries out his orchestration techniques and makes imaginative use of the organ. This is a highly interesting arrangement receives a first-rate performance from all those involved.
If the Choral Ballad vom Pagen und der Königstochter is neglected, the Adventlied has been completely forgotten by record companies. This is its premiere recording. Listening to it left me wondering why. Composed in 1848, the Adventlied shares with the Requiem für Mignon the problem of how to define it. It sets poetic and not Biblical texts, with Schumann choosing three of Rückert’s sacred poems to great effect, dividing them into seven short stanzas. The music is typical of this period of the composer’s development, with his lush romanticism coming to the fore. This was his first major religious piece, although it is based more on the humanist spirituality of the romantic poets. The work opens with a short orchestral prelude before the entry of the soprano, and then alternates between solos, vocal quartets and lush choral writing, saving the most rousing music of all for the final section, Und lösch’ der Zwietracht Glimmen aus. He also uses the central stanza, O Herr von grosser Huld und Treue, to emphasise the religious aspect of the work by giving it a chorale-like character. This is a wonderful work, one that all admirers of Schumann’s music will enjoy.
The performances throughout this disc are excellent. Carolyn Sampson, in particular, gives a feeling of wonder, especially in the opening of the Adventlied, where all the soloists and the chorus sing beautifully. The orchestra, though a baroque ensemble, has a heft that the composer would have appreciated. It does not sound like a small ensemble, even if it is only the size common at the time of composition, so those who do not like the sound of original instrument bands need not fear – the music given fully romantic treatment. The recorded sound is very good, whilst the booklet essay is just that – an essay setting the music in the context of the period and of the composer’s oeuvre. A must for all Schumann enthusiasts and not just for the Adventlied. Let us hope the same forces go on to record the remaining three Choral Ballads for Ondine.