double play

Schumann: Dichterliebe; Liederkreis; Heine Songs Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone), Imogen Cooper (piano) (Philips 446 086-2)

If ever a voice looked you straight in the eye, this one does. It's a voice you can trust. The timbre alone is reassuring: fresh, eager, wide-open yet discreet (this has to be the sweetest mezza voce in the business) - born to suggest youth, yearning, and love unrequited. Wolfgang Holzmair wears his considerable artistry lightly. Whatever it is that happens in the moment of performance, between the expression and the production of the sound, remains properly concealed from us. Holzmair will clarify, illuminate a song, lifting, highlighting a word or phrase of text without ever seeming to do so. But it's the old story - if the performer feels it, you'll hear it.

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 and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'