Schumann and Wolf Lieder
BBC Recordings – previously unreleased
Testament SBT 1520 @ £13.25 plus P&P
About this recording …. Benjamin Britten performed relatively few works by Schumann, although recordings indicate a rare sympathy with the composer. His main contributions were connected with close friends – Dichterliebe with Peter Pears, the Cello Concerto with Mstislav Rostropovich, the Piano Quartet with members of the Amadeus Quartet, and so on. Even his late espousal of the Scenes from Goethe’s Faust, which led to a ground-breaking recording, saw him surrounded by familiar faces. Although he and Pears made a celebrated studio recording of Dichterliebe, it is still wonderful to have this slightly earlier BBC performance in front of an audience. Pears and Britten were often broadcast performing Dichterliebe, beginning on 2 May 1948, although later on they were generally represented by their October 1963 Kingsway Hall recording. The present performance was taped at a BBC Invitation Concert on 9 March 1961 and inevitably is more spontaneous, less studied, than the studio version. The cycle was the major production of Schumann’s ‘song year’, 1840, and the aphoristic nature of the poems in Heinrich Heine’s Lyrisches Intermezzo chimed well with the composer’s habit of creating long works out of brief units. Britten’s piano playing breathes the High Romantic air from the outset, although he and Pears are almost hesitant in the opening song. Eric Sams makes a good guide for the home listener, describing this first song in The Songs of Robert Schumann as ‘a perfect example of Heine’s art; simple in words, clear in design, rich in allusion’ and relating it to a time in the composer’s life ‘when Clara’s love seemed lost to him’. Pears, with his clarity of enunciation and innate Romanticism, takes us through the successive moods of the 16 songs. The songs of Hugo Wolf have always had a tenuous hold on the British musical imagination, despite the efforts of the critic Ernest Newman, the German-born Lieder singer Elena Gerhardt and the Irish tenor John McCormack. The pugnacious record producer Walter Legge went to the lengths of compiling a Hugo Wolf Society edition for HMV in the 1930s, and it has even come out on CD. But most concert-goers have remained unconvinced: one London second-hand record shop even displayed a notice: ‘No riff-raff. No Hugo Wolf.’ So Pears and Britten, had much leeway to make up when, with the BBC’s backing, they espoused Wolf’s cause in the late 1950s.
Excerpted from the booklet note
Tully Potter, 2019