Schumann: Under the influence

In an explicatory note, Biss declares his intention to move Schumann from
the sidelines — admired, says Biss, only for a remarkably small number of his
works — to the centre-stage, as a “vital, riveting creative force”. Each
of Biss’s four programmes endeavours to show Schumann’s relationship to
both past and present, pairing his works with those of an influential
predecessor and a composer of the future whose music “without him would not
have been possible”.

Poetic and musical links were forged in this recital, with Schubert’s
settings of Heine, from the song cycle Schwanengesang, preceding a
performance of Schumann’s Dichterliebe, the composer’s
self-constructed sequence of poems by Heine written to honour and celebrate his
love for his beloved Clara. Tenor Mark Padmore was a serious and moving
interpreter, although his meticulous pronunciation did not quite embrace the
sensuousness of Heine’s texts. The result was a reading which conveyed the
extremes — desolate depths and ephemeral lightness — but did not always
capture the ‘in-between’ realms of earthly passion and natural human

After a turbulent ‘Der Atlas’, where Biss’s tempestuous opening evoked
the bitter fury of Atlas, who must bear the whole world’s sorrow,
Schubert‘s Ihr bild’ (‘Her picture’) established an eerie pathos during
the sparse opening, the singular line shaped with insight and effect, before
blooming to simple joy: “A wonderful smile played/ about her lips”. The
dark intensity of the concluding despairing cry, “I have lost you!”, was
transmuted into a casual, balladeer-like air in ‘Das Fischerm‰dschen’
(‘The fishermaiden’), Biss’s subtle rubatos urging the compound rhythms
to a gentle pianissimo close. ‘Die Stadt’ was pure Gothic melodrama,
Padmore final utterances laden with resentment and regret. The slow tempo of
the final song, ‘Der Doppelg‰nger’ (‘The wraith’) enhanced the mood of
fearful oppression and inner torment.

Padmore’s Dichterliebe was characterised by melodic eloquence and
expressive earnestness. His affecting whisper, “Doch wenn du sprichst: Ich
liebe dich”, in ‘Wenn ich in deine Augen seh’ (‘When I look into your
eyes’) was disturbingly pathetic and wretched. In contrast, ‘Im Rhein, im
heiligen Strome’ (‘In the Rhine, the holy river’) juxtaposed majesty with
still quietude. The tenor’s deep register in ‘Ich grolle nicht’ (‘I
bear no grudge’) was a little obscured by the piano accompaniment but Padmore
made much of the text in the concluding verse, as the poet-narrator witnesses
“the serpent gnawing your heart”, and the passionate intensity of the
accelerating piano postlude, running headlong into the subsequent ‘Und
w¸flten’s die Blumen’ (‘If the little flowers knew’) was thrilling.
Indeed, the links and juxtapositions in the narrative structure were
effectively defined, as when the hard disillusionment at the close of ‘Ein
J¸ngling liebt ein M‰dchen’ (‘A boy loves a girl’) — which began with
a poignant silence — hastened into the shifting colours of ‘Am leuchtenden
Sommermorgen’ (‘One bright summer morning’).

Biss was an alert and energised accompanist, underpinning ‘Die Rose, die
Lilie, die Taube’ (‘Rose, lily, dove’) with an airy, springy buoyancy,
while the trailing arpeggios of ‘Hˆr’ ich das Liedchen klingen were clear
and delicate, perfectly evoking the speaker’s dissolving tears in the piano
postlude. In ‘Aus alten M‰rchen’ (‘A white hand beckons’) Biss’s
staccato dotted rhythms conjured an elfin sprightliness; the performers used
the slower tempo of the final two verses to convey the unattainability of the
singer’s dream.

In the closing song, ‘Die alten, bˆsen Lieder’ (‘The bad old
songs’), Padmore adopted a powerful and rhetorical theatricality, culminating
in an anguished fall, coloured by diminished harmony: “Die sollen den Sarg
fortragen,/ Und senken in’s Meer hinab;” They shall bear the coffin away,/
and sink it deep into the sea;”).

Preceding the Heine sequences, soprano Camilla Tilling gave an exciting
performance of Alban Berg’s early songs, Sieben fr¸he Lieder.
Tilling appreciated the luxuriousness and sensuality of these diverse songs,
warming and brightening her tone at emotional highpoints — as in the opening
‘Nacht’ (‘Night’) which creeps in with gentle gracefulness and blossoms
to convey the singer’s awe as “Weites Wundererland ist aufgetan” (“A
vast wonderland opens up”). Similarly, in the Brahmsian ‘Die Nachtigall’
(‘The Nightingale’) the “sweet sound of her echoing song” resonated
sonorously around the hall. Tilling’s tone acquired a glossy sheen in
‘Schilflied’ (‘Reed song’) to suggest the enlivening effect of the
poet’s inner thoughts, while in ‘Liebesode’ (‘Ode to love’) she
called on more burnished colours to complement the piano’s chromatic
harmonies and portray the ecstatic dreams of the sleeping lovers.

Biss began the recital with a wonderfully imaginative performance of
Schumann’s Ges‰nge der Fr¸he, responsive to the diverse moods of
the individual movements — from the poetic simplicity of the exquisite
voicing in ‘Im ruhigen tempo’ to the hymn-like tranquillity of ‘Im
Anfange ruhiges’. Biss’s ability to use texture and timbre to communicate
meaning was impressive: the rhythmic propulsion of ‘Belebt, nicht zu rasch,
the minor key cascades and understated rubatos of ‘Bewegt’ and the final
airy chord of ‘Lebhaft’ spoke directly, with immediacy and emotion.

Claire Seymour


Camilla Tilling, soprano; Mark Padmore, tenor; Jonathan Biss, piano. Wigmore
Hall, London, Thursday 11 October 2012.


Schumann: Ges‰nge der Fr¸he Op.133
Berg: Sieben fr¸he Lieder
Schubert: Heine Lieder from Schwanengesang D957
Schumann: Dichterliebe Op.48

image_description=Robert Schumann, Wien 1839 [Source: Wikipedia]
product_title=Schumann: Under the influence
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Robert Schumann, Wien 1839 [Source: Wikipedia]