To My Distant Beloved: Songs of Schumann, Beethoven – Kindra Scharich, Jeffrey LaDeur – MSR Classics

by | Aug 20, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

An absolutely indispensable recital from every angle you care to consider.

“To My Distant Beloved” = SCHUMANN: Frauenliebe und Leben, Op. 42; Fantasie in C, Op. 17; BEETHOVEN: An Die Ferne Geliebte, Op. 98 – Kindra Scharich, mezzo-soprano/ Jeffrey LaDeur, piano – MSR Classics MS 1762, 74:10 *****:

Robert Schumann didn’t think much of song cycles until his friend Felix Mendelssohn persuaded him otherwise. He was a spurt composer—piano music, symphonies, chamber music, all seemed to come in blocks. But if we consider his piano music the courtship period with beloved Clara Wieck, the year 1840 marks the point when her father finally gave in, and Schumann was able to marry her. It might be a stretch to consider his song cycles the “honeymoon” period of his life, but then again, maybe the analogy isn’t all that far-fetched. But what is interesting is that his texts for the magnificent cycle Frauenliebe und Leben (A Woman’s Love and Life) turn not to his affections for his wife, but to hers! In a perceptive description by soprano Carolyn Sampson, she sums up the situation thusly: 1. I can’t think of anything but him; 2. He’s wonderful and I am not worthy; 3. OMG – he said he loved me; 4. I am his and have the ring to prove it; 5. Girlfriends: today I leave you for him; 6. I am pregnant with mini-you; 7. I feed my baby and am fulfilled; 8. Your death is the first time you have truly hurt me. Honestly, she is right on target. But what makes this cycle so wonderful—and there are many women I suspect who, while not considering such sentiments the entirety of their existence, certainly sympathize with some of them at different points in life—is the ability of the composer to bring to life the hidden and subtle unspoken emotions so thoroughly in a spoken manner. Indeed, Schumann is always a remarkably perceptive poet himself who knows the depth of feeling that such lyrics emanate. So, even with the words that are definitely of another time, feelings, and emotions and all those things common to humanity throughout the ages remain utterly relatable. 

Beethoven, on the other hand, whose An Die Ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved) marked the first and only of his song cycles, and the first of a major composer, uses absence as the hallmark emotion of the protagonist, a male this time. But some even believe that this “distance” refers to one in “heaven”, and so takes a different coloring altogether. Being through-composed, unlike the Schumann, these songs must be taken together in sequence. And yet they are not sequential but a series of reflections that could be ordered differently in terms of emotional content. Two takes, then, on love and loss from two completely different composers, yet the sentiments are not far apart.

Kindra Scharich has a spectacularly beautiful voice, and I do not say such things often. Her contextualization and characterization of these works is spot-on from beginning to end. Her voice has such a smooth and effortless feel to it; she doesn’t overly press the issue to make poetic points, nor does she try to let the composer “speak for himself”, whatever that means. Instead, she enters the heart of the message via the music and sings the words as if they were her own. Perfect vibrato, a wonderful sense of phrasing and declamation, coupled with her rich, warm instrument make this a release to be reckoned with.

Of course, the other half of this combination must be the wonderful pianism of Jeffrey LaDeur. Playing on one of Leonard Bernstein’s Baldwin pianos, it’s as if that great composer was channeling his considerable vocal and pianistic expertise to the accompanist. And the word “accompanist” seems slighting—Schumann the pianist would be the first to take offence! 

LaDeur is an enabler in the best sense of the word—he coaxes, cajoles, inspires, and keeps the rhythmic line taut and still flexible, responding to Scharich as if glued to her voice. As a bonus we also get to hear his take on that outstanding work, the Fantasie in C. This piece has many recordings, but many artists meet their Waterloo in the last and most poetic movement, not able to navigate the needed perfection in tension and release properly. LaDeur succeeds in one of the very best renditions of this work I have ever heard.

Did I mention I really like this disc? Fabulous.

—Steven Ritter 

To My Distant Beloved, Album Cover

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