Liederkreis, Op. 39. Frauenliebe und –leben, Op. 42 (Baker, Barenboim)
Great news: Dame Janet Baker has at last moved decisively into the Lied with a new record that sets new standards. That “at last” may provoke some expostulation, because she has long been highly-placed in this field. But perhaps a certain finish was lacking. The greatest Lieder-singers of our time have always had to offer more, as well as (if possible) Moore. Their voices must be fully as expressive of the poetry as the best-composed and best-played piano parts are. It's a lot to ask, especially of English speakers. But here is a truly vital response. Dame Janet's audibly intense involvement in the German texts affords new insights which are projected like so many laser-beams, making the music glow and shine. Daniel Barenboim is well attuned to the same wavelength.
Perhaps a few trifling points are arguably less than perfect. In Op. 39, for example, some of the transpositions disturb the tonal scheme, In places the singing could have been even more expressive. Thus “wohl irrt das Waldhorn…” (No. 3) needs the same touch of ominous mystery as “Jäger… blasen” (No. 10); the themes are parallel in words and music. The piano sounds faintly under-recorded throughout, and sometimes underplayed, e.g. the polite forest murmurs in No. 1, which seem a shade too pastel for Schumann's scene-painting.
But put all such cavils in one pan of the scales and then watch them fly skyward as the credit tally hits the other side. The performances are individual yet integrated; the two cycles have been thought through to the last tone and syllable. Within these two contrasting frames, the two sets of pictures — Eichendorff’s landscapes, Chamisso's domestic interiors arc most vividly drawn. Even in its restraint the accompaniment has moments of magisterial authority, as in the fine flash of sudden colour that illustrates the irruption of the hunting party into the twilit scene of No. 11 The voice is a brilliant fusion of meaning and melody; the climax of No, 6 is a shining example. The tapestry of Frauenliebe is too close-woven for any one strand to be singled out; in both works the total experience is especially significant and impressive. Even the most ardent and assiduous of Schumann-lovers will find something to learn as well as to admire.
All this greatly eases the task of comparison; there just is no comparison. Even Dame Janet’s own earlier Saga disc is outshone if not eclipsed. Only Fischer-Dieskau (his Op. 39 with Gerald Moore on HMV ASD650, 9/65, is now deleted) and Schwarzkopf (on HMV) are of comparable magnitude.
Texts are included, as usual, but (as rather unusual) there ate only five mistakes and only one misaligned poem (the eighth, which should be in quatrains). The translation are more than competent. EMI seem to be turning over a new leaflet; rightly so, for this already historic recording. The sound engineering is of comparable quality, although purchasers might well have preferred a longer interval between each song, to get their breath back. But I’m sure they won' t want their money back.
© gramophone, Jul., 1976 (p. 205)