Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Goerne’s Dichterliebe

I never performed Schumann’s Dichterliebe (poet's love); it’s not supposed to be for women. Lotte Lehmann who taught Lied interpretation thought this was bullshit. She sang whatever she wanted. But nevertheless, it is a work that I have studied and tried to sing and play on the piano. I know each song almost by heart. “Ich grolle nicht” is probably the only one I actually performed. Dichterliebe is the peak in the song cycle world.

Why? It is made up entirely of fragments, snapshots with no beginning or ending, the perfect example of Schumann’s art, the reason he is revered above all others. It’s like haiku—capture all there is to say about one thing in just a few notes, and then move on. The poet Heinrich Heine is as perfect in his expression as Schumann is in his settings. What expresses falling in love better than “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai?” What song is more bitter than “Ich grolle nicht,” or more tragic than “Ich hab' im Traum geweinet?” [It’s mistranslated on Wikipedia—my tears are still flowing.] What other song cycle can claim irony such as “Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome” and “Allnächtlich im Traume?”

It’s like a collection of tiny diamonds.

Matthias Goerne is the first to establish a major career from Lieder since Fischer-Dieskau, and has recorded all of the big cycles. I’ve never cared for the voice of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau—it’s just too kind of sweet and whiny for me. He’s regarded like a god, but I just don’t like him, though old age has softened this. Goerne’s voice is not especially pretty. He growls and groans his way along, but I like this growl better than Fischer-Dieskau’s whine.

There is not room for great effects as there is in opera. Interpretation consists of finding the same fragment of perfection as the poet and the composer. Goerne has found the perfection of Dichterliebe. Each song is as it should be.

He is aided in this achievement by the astounding piano playing of Vladimir Ashkenazy. He’s far more assertive than what I am used to, but I think for Schumann this is right. The piano must feel equal to the voice. I love it.

Liederkreis is on the same recording, but I don’t know it nearly so well.

Well, I guess I do know this one.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry,but I could not disagree
more with you about Fischer-Dieskau.If anything, he has been much-maligned and underrated in many quarters.With all due respect,I think it's simplistic
to describe his voice as"sweet" and "whiny". What makes him such a great artist is the sheer variety of color and expressivity of his singing.
I have never found him"fussy" and "mannered" as his detractors do.His specificity is far preferable to someone who has a gorgeous sound
and flawless technique who just produces a generalized stream of beautiful but bland sounds.
Unfortunately,I never got a chance to hear him live,but I do treasure his countless recordings.
I also admire his opera recordings. His Verdi may not be"idiomatic",but his characterizations are compelling.When he sang Rigoletto at La Scala, one Italian opera fan actually said that it was the greatest portrayal of the role he had ever experienced! The late Robert Merill may have had
a much more sheerly refulgent voice,but he never came close to being as interesting a singer as
Also,I don't believe that Matthias Goerne is the first lieder singer to have made a big
career since Fischer-Dieskau;there are several others,whose name I can't recall at the moment.
Still,I enjoy your website a lot.

Dr.B said...

There's absolutely no accounting for how one reacts to the sound of a singer's voice.