Schumann: Dichterliebe; Liederkreis; Heine Songs Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone), Imogen Cooper (piano) (Philips 446 086-2)
Friday 28 July 1995
It is an exceptionally light, bantamweight baritone, which makes for an affecting vulnerablity in some of these songs, while naturally intensifying their confidentiality. But inevitably there are resonances that elude him and it (most particularly in the lower quarter of the voice). Then again, such is the skill of Schumann's writing - voice and keyboard as one, not so much a shared, more a unified experience - that Imogen Cooper's hands repeatedly refresh the parts Holzmair's voice cannot reach.
Dichterliebe is outstanding. These songs might have been custom-made for this voice, this singer. It's there right from the start, this special atmosphere, it's there in the luminosity with which Cooper announces "the glorious month of May". It's there in the fourth song "Wenn ich in deine Augen seh", where Holzmair can hardly bring himself to utter the words "I love you" (his inflection here is but a whisper in his lover's ear). And after the ecstasy, the agony, made public with the great "Ich grolle nicht", its climax cutting to the quick in a defiant, almost tenorial high A.
"Hor' ich das Liedchen klingen" is exquisite, the tears that "dissolve the excess of my grief" falling like a gentle rain in both voice and keyboard; and there's that marvellous song "Ich hab' im Traum geweinet" ("I wept in my dream"), which might almost be unaccompanied but for the piano's stark reminders that the dreamer is now awake and the heartache all too real.
Cooper has the last word - one of those lingering Schumann postludes where grief falls away with the embellishments leaving only reconciliation and hope.
Wolfgang Holzmair and Imogen Cooper's Wigmore Hall Lieder recitals were one of my critical highlights of 1994. So this just had to be wonderful - hadn't it? In fact, there was more than a twinge of disappointment at the end of the Dichterliebe cycle, and that's the strongest thing on the disc. Perhaps I should have tried to forget Holzmair in the flesh - after all, there's a big difference between the intimacy of a live song recital and the relative impersonality of a CD, and to be a success in both requires an equally big change of attitude. But here Holzmair too often feels expressively reined-in.
There are moments where he stops singing to the microphone and seems to address the listener personally, as at "Yet when you say 'I love you' " in "Wenn ich in deine Augen seh" from Dichterliebe - but these are much fewer and further between than I expected. Of course, it's better not to treat the famous "Ich grolle nicht" as a sustained rant; Holzmair's subtlety is very welcome in more impassioned songs such as this. But you can be too subtle, or too restrained. This song is supposed to represent the seething bitterness of betrayed love - Holzmair sounds as if he's never seethed in his life.
Some of the most poetic moments are actually provided by Imogen Cooper - especially the heartfelt solo epilogue to Dichterliebe, in which the piano seems to pick up the pieces after the emotional wreckage of the songs. It's one of Schumann's finest touches, and he would surely have been delighted by Cooper's balance of intensity and delicacy. There can't be many British pianists who understand this repertoire better. Beyond question, Holzmair's understanding is just as deep, but somehow he just doesn't seem to have put anything like all of it across on this disc. Could do better? I'm afraid so.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 3 The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
- 4 Why you're almost certainly more like your father than your mother
- 5 Westboro Baptist Church couldn't picket Leonard Nimoy's funeral because they didn't know where it was
Fifty Shades of Grey banned by Indian censors despite sex scenes being edited out
The 9 rules every Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon had to follow are wonderfully pedantic
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Seth Rogan's pot fumes delay hacked Sony boss’s office move
India's Daughter: BBC Four documentary provokes outrage on Twitter
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Nigel Farage promises Ukip will not 'stigmatise' would-be migrants – and says he wants 'everyone to speak the same language'
Ex-head of MI6: 'We shouldn't kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy'
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests