SCHUMANN AND BRAHMS: Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden

Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden
Clara & Robert Schumann, Brahms: Lieder & Briefe.
Werner Güra, tenor, Christoph Berner, piano.
Harmonia Mundi CD HMC 901842

The CD entitled Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden contains a selection of music by three friends who composed Lieder: Robert Schumann, his wife Clara, and their colleague Johannes Brahms. Their friendship is well known, and this recording is an attempt to pay tribute to what Berner calls “the manifold interactions between this artistic trinity” by presenting music by each of them; the pieces include Robert Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op. 24, seven Lieder by Clara Schumann, and ten of Brahms’ Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33.
This recording is based on a semi-staged recital that involved both of the performers on this CD, Werner Güra and Christoph Berner, and also the actress Meriam Abbas. As mentioned in the notes that accompany the recording, the original program was not only a performance of Lieder by these three composers, but also readings of excerpts from their correspondence. While none of the readings are included on the CD, the extensive booklet bound with the CD includes excerpts from relevant letters in the original German, along with translations in French and English.
Beyond the unique concept behind this particular CD, the recording itself contains some fine performances of Lieder in general. Güra is known for some of his interpretations of tenor roles in operas by Mozart and Rossini, and he has also given Lieder recitals. This particular CD offers an excellent opportunity to hear him perform both familiar music, like the cycle by Robert Schumann, and works that are less well known, like the songs by Clara Schumann. With Brahms, Güra has chosen some excellent songs that show various moods and styles, and Berner is quite deft at handling the sometimes intricate rhythms Brahms used in these settings. Yet the selection of music by Clara Schumann offers some fine examples of her Lieder, which show her mastery of the genre. These songs deserve the kind of striking performances that Güra provides along with the discreet and supportive accompaniment by Christoph Berner. For those unfamiliar with Clara’s Lieder, the seven presented here are a good introduction to her work in this genre.
Güra and Berner work well together in Robert Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op. 24, and it is from the setting at the center of this cycle, “Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden” (“Beautiful cradle of my sorrow”) that the CD takes its name. This is an effective performance of the cycle for the clarity of the melodic line that emerges from some of the more involved keyboard writing. Some of the pieces in this cycle are highly dramatic, but even when the music demands a loud dynamic level, Güra does not resort to histrionics, but rather stays within the lyrical parameters that are essential to Schumann’s style. Likewise, his diction is always clear, and the inflections he uses with the text contribute to the overall musicality of the performance.
All in all, the music on this CD is well chosen, and both Güra and Berner show themselves to be adept at interpreting Lieder by three composers who approach vocal music individually. Those familiar with Schumann’s Lieder should find this performance of the Liederkreis, op. 24, to be engaging; likewise, the selection from Clara’s songs and also Brahms’ settings of folktunes make this recording worthy of attention.
James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin