Britten on Record: Schumann: Liederkreis, Op.39

Britten on Record: Schumann: Liederkreis, Op.39 (BBC Legends: Britten The Performer)

Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano)

Live recording: Aldeburgh Festival – Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, 15 June 1958

1 In der Fremde
2 Intermezzo
3 Waldesgespräch
4 Die Stille
5 Mondnacht
6 Schöne Fremde
7 Auf einer Burg
8 In der Fremde
9 Wehmut
10 Zwielicht
11 Im Walde
12 Frühlingsnacht

Audio

Clips from the performance can be heard at the All Music website.

Background and Critical Reception

Britten and Pears had a great shared love for the songs of Schumann, and John Bridcut details how the pair amassed an impressive dfgd performances of his great Dichterliebe cycle. Yet the two were not restricted in their repertoire choices, and delivered the Op.39 Liederkreis – written in 1841, Schumann’s ‘year of song’ – as part of an Aldeburgh Festival recital given in the Jubilee Hall on 15 June, 1958.

It is immediately clear that singer and pianist have a special affinity with this music – but as Roger Vignoles argues in his perceptive booklet notes for BBC Legends, Britten the composer also has a close bond with Schumann. ‘Thinking of Britten as a composer’, he writes, ‘I was struck by the structural similarity of Liederkreis to several of his own song-cycles. In particular there is the same symmetry of arrangement and key structure, and the mixture of reflection and narrative around a particular set of ideas or images (in Schumann’s case the essential German Romantic imagery of Eichendorff) that Britten employs in his Hardy cycle Winter Words.’

Thoughts

In the music of Schumann the level of musical understanding between Britten and Pears reaches its peak – though when comparing with recordings of other composers it is a timely reminder of the pair’s consistently high standards in the recording studio.

This performance of Liederkreis has a wonderful depth of feeling that is very subtly wrought, using restraint as well as power to convey its full expression. Pears sings beautifully throughout, his melodic figures and resonant tone prompted by Britten’s counter melodies at the piano. Together the pair explore the tenderness of Schumann’s settings – along with the darker corners, too.

To pick out highlights is almost churlish, but Mondnacht is warmly romantic, while Britten’s shaping of melodic phrases is exemplary during In der Fremde, as is Pears’ control and diction. We hear the richer sound of the tenor’s lower range in this song, but in Auf einer Burg the clouds are gathering and anxiety sets in. There is a slight slip from Britten in the complicated accompaniment to Im Walde – a reminder that we are in a live environment where even the greatest musicians are human! The cycle reaches an exultant finish with Frühlingsnacht to deservedly enthusiastic applause.

Spotify

Not available.

Also recorded in 1958: Hovhaness – Symphony no.2, ‘Mysterious Mountain (Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Fritz Reiner (RCA Victor)

Next up: Fauré – La bonne chanson, Op.61

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