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Schumann and
Beethoven songs -
reviewed by

'... he is undoubtedly more comfortable in his baritone register.'

Robert Schumann; Ludwig van Beethoven. Stephen Cary; Dennis Helmrich. © 2009 Stephen Cary

In the sixth song of this wondrous cycle, when the poet is already beginning to doubt his love, Schumann treats of the Rhine and Cologne's Cathedral; they recur also at the end, with large coffin and bier requiring giants to carry them. Both river and mighty building were of major significance in the composer's later life, in the impetuous splendour that characterises so much of the 'Rhenish' symphony apart from the solemn inspiration and grave counterpoint of its 'cathedral' movement. And the Rhine at Düsseldorf was the scene of Schumann's attempted suicide, early token of his ultimate mental collapse.

Four songs were omitted when the cycle was originally published. They are all performed here as a supplementary bonus. The first concerns a dream that the beloved is already acquiring the pallor of death.

Listen -- Schumann: Dein Angesicht, so lieb und schön
(track 17, 0:00-0:33) © 2009 Stephen Cary

The last deals with a carriage journey through the flowering sunlit countryside, interrupted by the arrival of three sinister additional passengers, whose mocking behaviour and mistlike evasiveness culminate in their equally mysterious disappearance.

Listen -- Schumann: Mein Wagen rollet langsam
(track 20, 1:00-1:56) © 2009 Stephen Cary

It was Beethoven who first conceived the idea of a song cycle, in the six linked songs (1816) of An die ferne Geliebte, published as Op 98. He avoids Schumann's despair by relying in the first song, as also in the last, on the power of music itself to overcome distance, however grievous the separation.

Listen -- Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte
(track 21, 0:00-0:54) © 2009 Stephen Cary

The intervening songs are all concerned with the consolation to be derived from nature, whether in valleys shadowed by cloud-capped mountains or in the brook that absorbs the lover's tears.

Listen -- Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte
(track 21, 4:00-5:28) © 2009 Stephen Cary

The keyboard part, imaginative enough in Beethoven, and increasingly telling in the expressive preludes and postludes of Schumann, is in the safe hands of Dennis Helmrich, who has the requisite sensitivity for his share of the recital. Stephen Cary sings all the music in its original tenor key. Tenor as he is billed to be, he is undoubtedly more comfortable in his baritone register. Phrases in the upper range too often sound strained, which militates against an otherwise thoroughly intelligent and satisfying performance.

Copyright © 10 November 2009 Robert Anderson,
Cairo, Egypt







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