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Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856)
Myrthen (selections), Op. 25 Nos 1, 3, 7 & 24 [7:55]
Frauenliebe und -Leben, Op. 42 [20:43]
Liederkreis, Op. 24 [21:34]
Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Op. 125 [9:19]
Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo-soprano)
Johannes Weisser (baritone)
Nils Anders Mortensen (piano)
rec. 2018, Sofienberg Church, Oslo
Sung texts with English translations enclosed LAWO LWC1197 [59:44]
Every new disc with Marianne Beate Kielland evokes high expectations and so far they have never failed to satisfy me. Her discography has expanded steadily and together with her regular accompanist Nils Anders Mortensen she has to date issued nine CDs on the LAWO label. Not all of them has come my way, but those who have, now belong to my, admittedly fairly long, list of favourites. Having first encountered her as Bach singer some fifteen years ago, I have during the last decade enjoyed her as an outstanding interpreter of art songs. As early as 2007 she recorded a substantial helping of Schumann, together with baritone Christian Hilz, on the AVIE label. There she sang, among other things, the Maria Stuart Songs, which she now returns to on the present disc. For the Norwegian LAWO company appeared in 2014 a Grieg collection, including Haugtussa, which may be one of the summits in the composer’s production. The following year she issued a disc titled “Young Elling” which was a sequel to a SIMAX disc with Ann-Helen Moen. Elling was, at least until those two discs appeared, practically unknown outside Norway. It was followed in 2017 by “Whispering Mozart”, which was enthusiastically by both my colleague Margarida Mota-Bull and myself. In 2019 there was a magical Mahler recital and a disc with songs by Olav Kielland and Arne Dørumsgaard. Kielland is a distant relative to Marianne Beate. And now comes her latest offering: a Schumann recital which she shares with her compatriot Johannes Weisser.
Weisser’s breakthrough – at least in the field of recordings – was the rather revolutionary Don Giovanniin René Jacobs’ series of Mozart operas. It was recorded in 2006, when Weisser was only 26, and he stood out as the youngest and most lyrical Don one could imagine and was perfectly suited to Jacobs’ concept. Here, with a good decade of further experience in his backpack, he has retained the lyrical qualities and deepened and polished his means of expression – which even in 2006 were very obvious. He appears as a kind of guest, singing only the marvellous cycle Liederkreis, Op. 24, to texts of Heinrich Heine. He is of course up against formidable competition from all the great Lieder-singers of the past and the present but holds his own marvellously well. All the way through the nine songs he sings off the words, his voice is beautiful, he is expressive, sensitive, nuanced. Just listen to the melancholy Ich wandelte under den Bäumen (tr. 13), where all these characteristics are in the fore; and compare with Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden (tr. 15) – so flexible, so soft and inward; or the following Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann (tr. 16) sung with dramatic power and intensity that reveals the opera singer. In the concluding Mit Myrthen und Rosen (tr. 19) – one of my favourite songs by Schumann – he can certainly challenge any of the great predecessors. And why do we have to make comparisons all the time? Readings can differ a lot, but one is not necessarily better than the others. I would have kept this disc for Weisser’s reading of Liederkreis, even if the rest of the programme had been indifferent.
Fortunately it isn’t. As a matter of fact Marianne Beate Kielland is just as marvellous as I had hoped for. And question is whether she has ever sung as lovingly beautifully as here. Now in her mid-forties her tone has adopted a youthful silvery sheen that is wholly enticing. And she combines this with the deep interpretative insight she has displayed on previous recordings. The whole programme is focused on the Lieder-year 1840, when he wrote around 150 songs, spurred no doubt by his love of Clara which was substantiated on 12 September that year when they at last could get married. The group of 26 songs under the joint title Myrthen, was in fact published on their wedding day and it was a lovely idea to sprinkle in some of these songs between the three groups of songs that form the kernel of the disc.
She opens the disc with Der Nussbaum, sung with great warmth. The text is by Julius Mosen and tells a story of the wind which whispers in the branches of the tree about a dreaming young maiden. It is a suitable prelude to the cycle Frauenliebe und –Leben, where in the first song the narrator also dreams about her husband-to-be – although they are waking dreams. Then the story unfolds in a logical development: she depicts him as the most glorious of all; she still can’t understand that ‘she is his eternally’; she is delighted to carry the little golden ring; she asks her girl-friends to ‘banish her foolish anxiety’ before their wedding; her bliss at being a mother; finally the first pain when she feels abandoned. Marianne Beate Kielland expresses all the feelings that overwhelms the narrator: the euphoria in the first songs, the restrained happiness when she regards the ring on her finger, the anxiousness when she appeals to her friends for help, the tenderness she feels towards her child, and the deep sorrow in the final song, that is soothed in the piano postlude. This is a masterly reading so full of nuances, so full of vocal colours.
The interlude, Die Lotusblume, leading over to Johannes Weisser’s Liederkreis is glowingly sung, especially in the last stanza, which reads, in James Thomson’s atmospheric translation:
She blooms and glows and brightens / intent on him above / Exhaling, weeping, trembling / With ever-yearning love.
Glow also permeates Widmung, which functions as interlude before Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Op. 135, which are the only songs in this collection not composed in 1840. They were penned as late as 1852, only four years before Robert Schumann’s untimely death. They are tragic songs, much darker in tone than the majority of his oeuvre. When Kielland now returns to them after an interval of 12 years she has matured and sings them with an inner glow that is wholly in line with the tragic contents. The cycle spans 26 years in the life of Mary, Queen of Scots – which is much longer than Frauenliebe und –Leben – beginning when she leaves France in August 1561 at the tender age of 18 and ending just before her decapitation on 8 February 1587, when she was not yet 45.
When I reviewed Kielland’s previous recording in August 2008 I wrote “These are the songs on this disc that I will return to most often.” My prophecy was well-founded, and the new reading doesn’t invalidate the old one – rather it complements it. These are two well-considered readings that can stand on their own even in the most elated company; the one by a young singer in her fresh youth, the other by an experienced singer – still extremely fresh – but actually the same age as Maria Stuart was at her demise. I’m happy to own both and the new disc in its entirety is a wonderful compilation of some of Schumann’s greatest songs in wonderful readings. The “encore” Du bist wie eine Blume, so beautifully sung, brings balm to the listener after the sorrowful Maria Stuart cycle.