Anne Schwanewilms and Manuel Lange: "Robert Schumann, Hugo Wolf"
Texts, no translations. Capriccio C5166
A strong current of individuality animates these song performances by Anne Schwanewilms. In a period not lavish in Hugo Wolf interpreters, she promises to continue the tradition inaugurated in the past century by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. But this disc starts on a more equivocal note, with the soprano's personal, almost feverish approach to Robert Schumann.
The open-ended nature of his Liederkreis, Op. 39, using poems of Joseph von Eichendorff, is typified by its flavorless title, a mere label meaning "song cycle." This 1840 work echoes Schubert in certain tunes and generic vocabulary (nightingales, village, bride) before taking off in new directions. For an assertive interpreter such as Schwanewilms, the loose framework is an invitation.
She sets the scene of alienation and grief starkly in the opening song, "In der Fremde" (In Foreign Land), with fresh-minted perceptions and a decided chill. A twist of tone or pitch on certain words, a brief hesitation, can depict a character shrinking from the bleak clouds, the landscape, reminders of dead parents. But the thought of the speaker's own eventual death provokes an almost exultant flush.
While the voice and piano plumb sardonic depths later in the cycle with equal immediacy, there's something missing. In the lovely lyrical songs such as "Intermezzo," "Mondeslicht" and "Wehmut," Schwanewilms overpowers some delicate phrases and produces overemphatic consonants or pinched tones; stronger rhythmic drive by accompanist Manuel Lange might have been helpful here. Schwanewilms's sultry voice, for all its shades and coloring, lacks ease and focus for the softest, highest lines that should evoke the beauty of what's been lost. She shows you the burnt-out vacuum, not the remembered bloom.
In a shrewd sampling of just eight of Wolf's Mörike songs, Schwanewilms and Lange are apparently more at home, finding a firmer balance between poetry and psychology. The mercurial impressions of a lazy spring day ("Im Frühling") or a country meander ("Auf einer Wanderung") give the soprano ample fodder for her brilliant, diverse effects and her ability to shift mood on a dime.
Loss, though, remains her true forte ("Das verlassene Mägdlein" and "Wo find' ich Trost"), especially the Wolf subcategory of resignation. Her "Verborgenheit" (Seclusion) and "Gebet" (Prayer) seem at first too slow, solemn and controlled, a reminder of the fussy manner of her Mahler songs on another recent recording. But there is also a compelling depth and a sense of utter solitude in her interpretation, and "Verborgenheit" in particular undergoes a sweeping progression, with a beautifully voiced peak and then a muted restatement of the opening stanza that defies emotional labeling. It takes several hearings to appreciate the myriad layers Schwanewilms encompasses in this auspicious pairing of an elusive composer and a gifted interpreter.
DAVID J. BAKER
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