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William Kreindler
MusicWeb International, October 2007

In 1847 Schumann took over as Director of a male choir in Dresden at the suggestion of his friend Ferdinand Hiller, who himself had been preceded in the post by Wagner. The following year Schumann established a larger - over 100 singers - mixed choir the Verein fur Chorgesang. It was for this more ambitious group that he composed the four books of Romanzen und Balladen in 1849-51. In 1849 he also composed the Romanzen for women’s voices. Many of the songs in both groups were composed while the composer and his family were fleeing the revolutionary events in Saxony of 1848-49, although one would hardly know it from the music.

As in his vocal works Schumann’s literary expertise is evident in his choice of texts. Along with Goethe, the German Romantics predominate, although Robert Burns shows up three times and twice with the same poem. In the Op. 67 set, Nos. 4 and 5 stand out with Ungewitter (Thunderstorm) demonstrating emotional depth worthy of the larger symphonic works and with a surprising ending. Jon Anderson is the first Robert Burns poem, here in its first version. It is almost totally static, but extremely dramatic, a tour de force that only Schumann could have brought off. In the second set one must point out No. 3, Der traurige jager (The Melancholy Hunter), one of the highlights of the disc. Again the intensity reminds one of much bigger works and there some interesting harmonic excursions. No. 5, Vom verwundeten knaben (The Wounded Lad) brings something fresh to a very old poem.

In the third set of Romanzen und Balladen, No. 19, Der Sanger (The Singer) brings an interesting outdoor quality to accompany the title character’s wanderings. The set ends with the familiar story of the goose-boy in what surely must be the most extrovert version ever. Set Four has yet another Burns setting (Der Bankelsanger Willie) (No. 2) that is interesting for its light touch of Scottish dialect or Schumann’s idea of such. The air of regret in Sommerlied (No. 4), with its drawn-out passages, is typical Schumann, while the fifth and last of the fourth set, Das Schifflein (The Little Boat) is reminiscent of the Schubertiads in its combination of voices and instruments.

It must be confessed that the two sets of Romanzen, for women’s voices alone, are not nearly as interesting as the mixed-voice works. This may be due to fact that each set was written over a three day period and to the fact that the above-mentioned Verein fur Chorgesang had been founded precisely to get Schumann away from such works. There are exceptions. No. 5 in the first set Meerfey (Sea Fairy) is truly eerie in the way it produces a feeling of spirits under the water. The last of the set Die Kapelle (The Chapel) (No. 6) has some of this same intensity. In the second set, the sixth and last In Meeres Mitten (in the Middle of the Ocean) must be mentioned for its almost orchestral sound.

Aquarius is a vocal ensemble founded by composer-conductor Marc Michael de Smet in 1995 as the Goeyvaerts Consort. They specialize in modern music, but have also prominently featured Schumann. On this record they have two great strengths-they have a near perfect blend of voices and their rhythmic abilities are just what Schumann’s songs require. Their weakness is that their commitment or attention can vary from one song to the next. The Presentation Church in Sint-Niklaas provides a reasonably good acoustic for his type of music. Another successful Naxos exploration of little-known Schumann.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2007

We have reached that point in Robert Schumann's chequre career where he is working in Dresden and has inherited a local choir. He was married to Clara after having a protracted and bitter legal battle with her father, Friedrich Wieck, who had been his piano teacher and mentor. Many years his junior, Clara had been since marriage their source of income as a concert pianist, accompanied wherever she went by her new husband. After many attempts at finding constant employment - his own career as a pianist cut short by a damaged hand - the couple had settled in Dresden in 1844. In 1847 their friend, Ferdinand Hiller, left Dresden to take up an appointment in Dusseldorf, leaving Schumann the male voice choir, Liedertafel, who prior to Hiller had been conducted by Wagner. Though hardly an earth-shattering job, Schumann soon had the idea of forming a much larger and ambitious group of a hundred mixed male and female voices. It was for this enlarged choir that he set to work on four scores, Romanzen und Balladen, which he completed in 1850, much at the same time as the two Romenzen for female voices. He drew on many sources for the texts, his literary interests creating well balanced pieces. Unless you are deeply involved with the choral world these works will be unknown to you, the scores showing Schumann's craft rather than his inspiration, the pieces falling most amiably on the ear. If they have a drawback it is a real lack of vivid contrast as we move from one song to the next - the Romanzen und Balladen each having five songs, the Romanzen being of six songs. They are here performed by the Belgium group, Aquarias, a highly skilled chamber choir who under their founder, Marc Michael De Smet, produce a silky smooth tone, always well balanced and the moments of questionable intonation far and few between. You can question with every justification why a small group is singing music Schumann composed for a large choir, but at least their size does bring clarity and the quieter sections are ravishing in their beauty. I don't suppose we are about to be inundated with alternative recordings, and a nice warm sound linked with the Naxos low price will fill a gap in your Schumann collection. A Naxos 'Limited Edition'disc which in certain geographic regions may be more easily obtained by Internet sales.






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5:37:26 AM, 14 July 2014
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