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Frauenliebe und -Leben - a Liederspiel based on Adalbert von Chamisso

Felicity Lott, Angelika Kirchschlager and Graham Johnson

Hyperion CDA 67563


This is a preliminary response to a tricksy recital CD, a thematic programme that only Graham Johnson could have devised. It is based on his experience of doing so for some three hundred recital programmes, many of them for Songmakers' Almanac.

Adalbert von Chamisso's poems are the lynchpin, with Schumann's cycle ever present but not given in its entirety; sometimes represented in the background by fragments of Kirchner's piano arrangement, in a sequence which features Loewe's settings, counterpointed by songs by others, most notably Wolf's.


Johnson seems to have been restudying Loewe recently, and he finishes this Frauenliebe und -Leben with a daring intermingled comparison of Schumann's and Loewe's final songs of bitter love, afterwards postponing to the very end of the CD Schumann's poignant epilogue to the cycle.


Johnson writes at length about the problems of setting up duet recitals and tours; diffiulties of repertoire, social compatability and schedules for 'starry colleagues'. From experience Johnson learned that duets have to be interspersed with solos, and so it is here.


This often seamless compilation was digitally recorded over three days; I hope all three artists remained together throughout the sessions - in Songmakers' Almanac recitals the singers always stayed on stage to listen to each other; quite innovative at the time.


The problem for listening on CD (which applies to most of Graham Johnson's collections for Hyperion) is that although the sequences are pleasurable to hear superficially, one is impelled to take on board commentary and texts, which entails here a continual turning of pages back and forth to cope with reading and collating the information, with page and verse references to the 46 tracks.


Programme making is an art in itself (one that came to mind in connection with the peculiar difficulties of doing so for twenty-minute audition recitals for the Kathleen Ferrier Competition; many of the contestants could have done with advice from Johnson) and CD presentation is another! I found following the trail rewarding; others might find it irritating?

The singing is predictably fine, and sounds great as recorded by Hyperion, though Kirchschlager is sometimes more closely miked? Johnson himself is clearly enjoying the brew he had mixed. This release will give great pleasure and food for thought.


© Peter Grahame Woolf