, April 2007
Liederalbum für die Jugend (Album of Songs for the Young) was published in 1849 as a kind of sequel to Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young)—a collection of piano pieces. The aim and the main structure is the same with both collections: providing young people with music for gradual development of technical skill and musical insight. That the Liederalbum is rarely performed is mainly due to the fact the earlier songs are too slight in content for grown-ups while the later ones are too testing for young performers. In the last handful we find settings of Mörike and Goethe that are anything but children’s music. This notwithstanding the collection is brimful with attractive songs, melodically appealing, that should be heard more often, at least when sung as on this disc: simply, naturally and with no attempts to invest more meaning than the text and the music can bear, but all the time with immense care for phrasing and nuances. Of course this isn’t a song-cycle and it would not be a good idea to perform the 29 short songs in the published order at a live recital, no more so than playing all the 153 pieces of that other great pedagogical work, Bartók’s Microcosmos from beginning to end. On the other hand a judiciously picked group of contrasting songs would no doubt be an asset to any song recital. Of the individual songs I at once fell for the first one, Der Abendstern, a wonderful melody, sung unaffectedly and with warmth. Der Sandmann is another gem, just as Frühlings Ankunft, filled with expectancy, and the messengers of summer, Die Schwalben (The Swallows), nervously flying back and forth. As a ‘filler’ we also get the five Lieder und Gesänge I, published the same year. Since it seems that the many songs written during the ‘Lieder Year’ 1840, tend to overshadow Schumann’s remaining output. They are also infrequently heard—the best known probably No. 4, Jasminenstrauch. But all of them are worth hearing, especially when sung with such exquisite shadings as here by Thomas Bauer, who is rapidly rising to the peak of the Lieder singers’ Helicon.
He has been entrusted with the lion’s share of the songs on this disc and what he does here is unerringly right. He has a voice of exceptional beauty and his mezza voce, which he employs on a majority of these songs, is so mellifluous, yet with an inexhaustible supply of colours. And when it comes to songs that require more power he is just as apt. I hope he will be the choice singer for the rest of this Schumann cycle.
Sibylla Rubens has all the attributes to go the same way as Thomas E Bauer—whose ‘E’ has been inserted again, having disappeared on the last disc that came my way. She has a lyrical voice, beautiful with an attractive vibrato, beguilingly twittering in Schmetterling and with an ability to lighten the tone further when needed, as in Der Sandmann, where she sounds appropriately boyish. She also has the means to do full justice to a dramatic and serious song such as the Mörike setting Er ist’s, better known in Hugo Wolf’s version.
The third singer, mezzo-soprano Stefanie Iranyi, takes part in a handful of duets with Sibylla Rubens and hers is also an attractive voice, which blends well with that of the soprano. The two ladies also participate as chorus in the refrain of Weihnachtlied. According to both the track-list and the liner-notes Spinnelied is a trio, but I couldn’t hear the baritone.
Sonically it is up to Naxos’s normal good standards, but in one instance, the first of the two Zigeunerliedchen (tr. 7), there is a change of perspective, making it seem much closer. Most of the accompaniments are quite simple but they are played with conviction by Ute Hielscher, who is balanced on equal terms with the singers.
There are good liner-notes by Gerhard Dietel, but texts and translations are only available as downloads. This issue is on all other accounts a winner from beginning to end. The Liederalbum für die Jugend should ideally be sampled a few songs at a time but I played the full 49 minutes at one sitting—plus the Op. 27 songs—and didn’t encounter a dull moment.