SCHUMANN: Dichterliebe, op. 48; Tragodie, op. 64, No. 3; Die beiden Grenadiere, op. 49, No. 1; Abends am Strand, op. 45, No. 3; Die feindlichen Bruder, op. 49, No. 2; Der arme Peter, op. 53, No. 3; Belsatzar, op. 57; Myrthen, op. 25, Nos. 7, 21, 24; Lehn’ deine Wang’ an meine Wang’, op. 142, No. 2; Es leuchtet meine Liebe, op. 127, No. 3; Dein Angesicht so lieb und schon, op. 127, No. 2; Mein Wagen rollet langsam, op. 142, No. 4 – Gerald Finley, baritone/ Julius Drake, piano – Hyperion CDA67676, 70:09 ****:

Allen Ginsberg, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and Theodore Roethke are all from that 1950s era that established the genre of the “confessional” poet, one who bares the most intimate and sometimes not-so-flattering details about one’s personal life, going into great public detail the way one would for only the most trusted and close friend. The notes to this release of music that Schumann set exclusively to the poetry of Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) reveals to us that perhaps the art of music was a hundred years ahead of American poetry. For while we cannot ascribe the title “confessional” to the actual poetry of Heine (too generic in its subject matter that is very common during the age, no matter how skillfully rendered), Schumann’s way with it is indeed soul-bearing; out of all the romantics, he alone felt the desire, even the necessity of passionately revealing the deepest secrets of his soul.

One only has to listen to songs like “The Two Grenadiers”, where he daringly quotes the “Marsellaises” of two soldiers captured in Russia and heading back to France while singing lines like “To hell with wife, to hell with child, I strive for far higher things; Let them beg, if they are hungry—My Emperor, my Emperor captured!” to know the mindset of a man who doesn’t fear the naked truth of intimacy, or the dramatic story of “Belshazzar”, almost a mini tone poem in song where each stanza is presented with the utmost care and concern for meaning to understand the mindset of the ultra-romantic. When we get to Dichterliebe (“The Poet’s Love”) from that astonishing song-year of 1840, we move into a realm of pure magic. This is Schumann’s most popular song cycle, and there are good reasons behind it; it does not leave us waddling in some esoteric puddle of confused emotions, but leads us from one exquisite setting to another, dovetailing and dissolving one to the next. We are also fortunate that on this recording the four songs that were originally planned for the cycle but then rejected for dramatic continuity reasons are also included here, as they are masterpieces. (the last four selections on the disc).

Finley is to me far more accomplished in this music than some of the American stuff he has tried his hand at lately, and the results are most satisfying, poetic, dramatic, and convincingly told. Julius Drake’s accompaniments add to the luster of this excellent program.

— Steven Ritter