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Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856)
Liederkreis, Op. 24 (tx Heinrich Heine) [20:28]
Zwölf Gedichte von Justinus Kerner, Op. 35 [32:48]
Matthias Goerne (baritone)
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
rec. 2018, Teldex Studio, Berlin
Sung texts with French and English translations enclosed
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902353 [53:29]

I first came across Matthias Goerne back in 1997, when I bought his first recording of Winterreise which was part of Hyperion’s epoch-making complete Schubert song edition. What struck me immediately was his care over nuances and his intelligent handling of the texts – features that have become his hallmarks ever since. His dramatic intensity was also obvious, and this he has demonstrated utterly convincingly as Wotan in Naxos’ recent Ring cycle. After his comprehensive series of Schubert songs for Harmonia Mundi, encompassing 12 CDs and completed in 2014, he now returns to Robert Schumann. He has previously recorded these two cycles for Decca with Vladimir Ashkenazy (Op. 24) and Eric Schneider (Op. 35), though I haven’t heard either of them. Here he allies himself with the great Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, an artist with a personality as great as Goerne’s and the result is overwhelming. My first impression of the disc was however a bit disappointing, since I found the recording balance favouring the piano unduly. This is no bad thing when it is played so deliciously by Andsnes, but it masks the voice in certain places, which is a pity since Goerne, as always sings so deliciously. It is mostly his unstressed pianissimo notes that suffer. I noted this primarily in the very first song Morgens steh’ ich auf, but I soon got used to it, and even though I would have preferred the voice to be marginally closer the balance doesn’t cause any unsurmountable problems. In this particular song Goerne amply demonstrates his sensitivity when he in the second stanza scales down on the phrase “im halben Schlummer” with a ritardando pianissimo on “Schlummer”. This is magical and Andsnes follows up this with a dreamlike postlude.
And magic there is over and over again throughout the programme, maybe nowhere as delicately as in Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen (tr. 3), where Andsnes paints the atmosphere deliciously in the prelude and Goerne wrings every drop of feeling out of the poem in an almost immobile reading. It leaves at least this listener breathless. Whether in soft contemplative mood like this or the intensity of the dramatic Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann (tr. 6) Goerne keeps you listening through his deep involvement. Sometimes the readings can seem almost improvisatory – listen to the rhythmically very free Berg’ und Burgen schaun herunter (tr. 7) – but of course this is well-considered, and the flexible reading of the final song in Liederkreis, the well-known Mit Myrten und Rosen (tr. 9), often heard in isolation from the cycle, is based on deep insight. The whole cycle, with Heine’s inspirational poems, is totally gripping.
Among Schumann’s cyclical works Kernerlieder seems to have been put at a disadvantage, though they are far from forgotten, but lately there have been several new recordings, so the songs seem to be in vogue – and that is good news. I have quite a few in my collection and grabs every opportunity to hear alternative readings. My favourite recording is Thomas Hampson’s from 1989, when he was at his freshest, with the young Peter Schreier clocking in as number two, but there are several others and the present offering from Matthias Goerne may reshuffle the list. Assisted by Leif Ove Andsnes he opens the proceedings with a Lust der Sturmnacht (tr. 10) where the storm rages more intensely and formidably that in any other reading I’ve heard. Here Goerne’s Wotanesque experience pays dividends. Wanderlied (tr. 12) begins jolly and outgoing in the first two stanzas, while the following two are more contemplative and Goerne/Andsnes highlight the contrasts, and so the jolly atmosphere returns in the reprise of the first stanza. Then in Erstes Grün (tr. 13) the poem, and Goerne’s singing, radiate warmth and delight at the arrival of spring:
You young green, you fresh grass,
How many a heart you have healed
That fell ill from the winter’s snow!
Oh, how my heart longs for you!
as the first stanza goes in Charles Johnston’s English translation
The deep involvement in the tragic Auf das Trinkglas eines verstorbenen Freundes (tr. 15) is tangible, but the dark shadows are shattered in the jolly atmosphere of Wanderung (tr. 16). All of this is so exquisitely performed. But it is in the five concluding songs that Schumann reaches the Apollonian heights and almost surpasses everything else he created: the warm and inward Stille Liebe; the even more inward Frage; to begin with the even more inward Stille Tränen, but it grows continually in intensity – and then relaxes only in the postlude; Wer machte dich so krank? the most grippingly skinless of them all; and Alte Laute, retrospective memories of “the time when I trusted the world and its pleasures” but:
Those days have now passed;
No meadow herb can heal me;
And from my anxious dream
Only an angel can wake me.
This song, like the four previous ones, is so filled with warmth and melancholy, and Goerne’s readings are just as skinless and deeply felt.
I will certainly return to Thomas Hampson (with the masterly Geoffrey Parsons as his accompanist) but from now on Matthias Goerne (with the masterly Leif Ove Andsnes as his accompanist) will share the space on my priority shelf. And in the bargain I then have Liederkreis Op. 24. Hampson’s couplings are different.
Goerne’s Wotan is the best since Hans Hotter, wrote a reviewer a while ago, Goerne’s Schubert is the best since Fischer-Dieskau, wrote another. Let me just add: Goerne’s Schumann is on a par with the best offerings from the past and may well surpass them.
Göran Forsling

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