It was as well that Schumann’s three Op. 94 romances for oboe and violin were performed before his song cycle Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love), otherwise they would been swallowed up as an utter anti-climax following a Wagnerian storm.
Matthew Brook and his admirable pianist Anna Markland created an opera that Schumann never wrote with the bass-baritone roaming round the Studio as the lovesick poet often unleashing Wotan in Die Walküre.
Hence, references to the Rhine over the cycle’s 16 songs were certainly apt!
Lieder in name, in execution it was not, but it was an astonishing performance with each song, no matter how brief, coming over as a graphic, intense episode in the poet’s life.
If you went looking for refined nuances, however, you may have felt like taking a leaf out of Schumann’s book and jumping in the Rhine to end it all.
Brook was in tremendous voice and his full-blooded singing was always secure in its delivery, whether fortissimo or sotto voce, as he dramatically lived each song and meant every word he sang.
Always on the same wavelength, Markland rendered Schumann’s all-important piano part with considerable aplomb, accuracy and no small amount of feeling of her own.
They did full justice to the sparer strains of the nine songs from Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad, although Brook’s voice as the questioning ‘lad’ in the marvellous Is My Team Ploughing? had a rather anaemic sound.
The three Gurney song masterpieces, In Flanders, By a Bierside and Sleep (an encore), were all superbly done, movingly but with a suitable degree of detachment, and Brook merged effortlessly with Ensemble 360’s string quartet for a fine account of Barber’s Dover Beach.
Schumann’s lyrical romances, splendidly played by Adrian Wilson and Tim Horton, as you might expect, rather lost out in the face of the ensuing angst and pessimistic glories that followed.