Vocal Duets (Varady, Schreier, Fischer-Dieskau, Eschenbach)
Some of Schumann's duets rival his solo lieder in expressive intensity; even the homelier ones radiate domestic bliss; and this finest of family music is still far from familiar. So this generous selection, much of it admirably performed, is welcome and opportune.
Only the most faithful of Schumann devotees will feel any cause for cavil, let alone complaint. But they must after all constitute the main market, and they may feel they have been sold rather short. Only about half these performances conform with the composer's explicit stipulation about key and voice. The registers have been falsified, and the sexes interfered with. As so often, the disc is designed for the Dieskauphile. True, the vocal blending of Fischer-Dieskau with Peter Schreier is undeniably beautiful and effective in its way; so who cares about Schumann's intended timbres or feeling-tones? Well, I do for one. Take the typical Liebesgramop.74 no.3 and Bedeckt mich mit Blumen op.138 no.4, where sultry Spanish ladies brood on their death-beds. These versions seem to expire from an overdose of female baritone. Too often, stylishness is preferred to style, and gimmickry to authenticity. Thus if the two male vocal stars could have condescended to Schumann's modest level, one of them would surely have noticed that their last word in Das Glück op.79 no. 16 must be “singen” not “bringen”. The real leading lights of this record are in my view Julia Varady and Christoph Eschenbach, who sing or play with unaffected beauty of tone and phrase, in exactly the right heartfelt style.
The Musical Times, Dec., 1980 (p. 787) © the estate of eric sams