International Record Review

Performing Schumann’s Dichterliebe is a task “not to be undertaken unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly” – particularly by baritones – “but reverently, discreetly, advisedly and soberly”. Not that there have been too many inebriated recordings, at least to my knowledge. Nevertheless, those last four adverbs are not inappropriate to Stephan Loges here: this is, as you would expect from this most thoughtful baritone, a consistent, thought-through interpretation: often quite slow, buttressed throughout by an individual but not unattractive quick vibrato that somehow reinforces the intensity and seriousness of approach throughout: not just in Dichterliebe but the entire recital. The grief of ‘Hör ich das Liedchen klingen’ is almost tragic, the tears of ‘Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet’ are painful and bitter. But ‘Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen’ needs a touch more spring in its step and ‘Ich grolle nicht’ is also a bit careful: it is typical of this interpretation that Loges eschews the optional high note Schumann writes here.

Another baritone, Thomas Hampson, who, like Loges, also includes the four Heine songs Schumann omitted from the cycle on publication, achieves a wider range of effects. But maybe this is all intentional, and Loges wants us above all to hear the darkness in the cycle: Dichterliebe is great enough to sustain many different colourings.

Underlining the ambivalence of some of the texts (those occasional throwaway endings!), Loges offers us in an admirable stroke of planning alternative versions of six of them, by Schumann’s contemporary Robert Franz; he was much admired in his day, but is now relatively neglected. It is absolutely fascinating, as well as occasionally disconcerting, to hear the familiar words in different but not (rhythmically) hugely dissimilar settings. More Franz, please, from this source.

And then to round out the disc, Loges and his admirable partner Alexander Schmalcz, both beautifully recorded, offer eight songs by Brahms; once again his warm, even tone and unhurried approach serve their darker side particularly well, as in the sorrowful ‘To a violet’ (Op.49 no. 2). Even the familiar ‘Wiegenlied’ (Op.49 no. 4) seems almost sombre. Loges’s pianissimo singing of the second stanza is beautifully sustained.

This stimulating vocal recital is complemented by a wide-ranging and articulate essay by Natasha Loges that embraces all 34 individual songs as well as the wider German Romantic context. There are full texts in German and English (literate translations by Eric Sams and Richard Wigmore).

—Piers Burton-Page