I’m afraid I’m going to start with an issue that some readers might consider marginal, that of the transpositions.
Although Heine’s poet is a man and we normally hear Dichterliebe sung by a male singer, Schumann actually wrote the cycle for a dramatic soprano. That being so, the vocal range is a little surprising since it sits in the middle octave for much of the time and, apart from the optional A in “Iche grolle nicht”, goes no higher than a G. Assuming that Schumann knew what he was doing, it is evident that he didn’t want “top-notey” singing (the aforesaid A being the one slight concession), but rather to permit the sort of intimate, self-communing delivery a singer can only manage in the “comfortable” part of his/her register. It follows, then, that when transposing it for a baritone, the transposition should be sufficient to carry the music into the baritone’s “comfortable” register. Generally speaking, the “low voice” edition of a song originally written for high voice will be a minor third lower, though there is no hard and fast rule and many singers like to decide for themselves. In the case of Dichterliebe the already not-so-high tessitura tends to tempt baritones (or publishers) to transpose it as little as possible. Loges starts out a tone lower, then at “Ich grolle nicht” he switches to the original key (without attempting the high A); he then continues in the original key until nearly the end, transposing the last two down a tone.
Puzzled, I turned to Gerhaher (RCA) and Maltman (Hyperion), just to mention two of the most recent versions, and found an almost identical situation (and they both manage a splendid high A in “Ich grolle nicht”); Gerhaher’s difference is that he has “Und wüssten’s die Blumen” down a third, Maltman’s that he also has “Im Rhein” in the original key.
Does this actually affect what the man in the street hears? I think it does in two ways. Firstly, it is probable if not certain that Schumann worked out an overall key sequence for the cycle, which thereby gets destroyed, and I had always supposed that, when transposing a song cycle, the hard and fast rule is that all songs are to be transposed equally. You don’t have to have technical knowledge to feel a jolt if the key relationship between two consecutive songs is not the one you usually hear, especially if it is less logical than the one the composer wrote.
Secondly, irrespectively of how easily the baritone manages the tessitura, if he is singing in the same key as the tenor (as all these three do for about half the cycle) he will produce a different kind of singing because he is in the upper range of his voice. He may mix in a touch of head voice and produce a magically luminous sound, but is it the sound Schumann wanted when he wrote these notes for the “comfortable” range of a high voice?
If these matters have come to the fore with regard to the present recording it is because Maltman and Gerhaher are sufficient masters of their upper range for my ear to accept what it heard and concentrate on their interpretations. Quite frankly, Loge’s top F – and he has a lot of them to sing – sounds husky in piano and hoarse in forte, rather a blight on an otherwise warmly resonant voice, and I was bound to wonder why he didn’t stick to a tone-lower transposition all the way through, or even a semitone lower still. As a once and for all example, try the rising phrase which opens Brahms’s “An ein Veilchen”. If you think the top note lovely then you can buy the disc without fear, though if you have the opportunity to compare all three baritones in the phrase “Da ist meinen Herzen” from the first Dichterliebe song you will surely have to admit that the other two sound at their ease up there while Loges does not.
That said, Loges is a sensitive interpreter, beautifully recorded with a warm toned piano behind him – all too literally sometimes since I noted just a few too many occasions for a record where the piano lags fractionally after the voice in simple chordal accompaniments. He pays particular attention to the words but sometimes, as in no. 3, this leads him to disrupt the line. Under the circumstances, while recognizing that there is much of beauty here, I can only repeat my recommendation for the other two, Gerhaher more impulsively present, Maltman more magically reflective. And I must say that a rehearing of the classic interpretation by tenor Aksel Schiøtz, whether in the famous 1946 recording with Moore or the slightly-fresher voiced 1942 version, recently discovered (both available from Danacord), revealed an inspired simplicity, an art concealing art and a sheer nobility of utterance which modern interpreters might do well to bear in mind. Schumann left a number of these songs without a tempo indication and a rehearing of Schiøtz and other much-loved tenors of the past also reveals that there is a wider range of options than might be supposed – Dermota’s slow, caressing “Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen”, for example.
Maltman’s Dichterliebe is part of Hyperion’s ongoing complete Schumann cycle, which all lovers of lieder should be collecting; Gerhaher also couples some lesser-known Schumann. From Loges we get some later Heine settings by Schumann and then a group of Franz songs, all settings of poems included by Schumann in Dichterliebe. This might actually be the main reason for getting the disc.
I had always fondly imagined that the 54 Lieder by Franz published by Kistler, of which I acquired a copy in a Victorian binding many years ago, represented all this composer’s songs, or at least all that mattered. It proves that neither was the case; I was quite bowled over by “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai”, which loses nothing by beginning almost identically with Schumann’s, and equally aroused by the following two. But I have to say that “Ich hab’ im Traume geweinet” tries hard without coming within a thousand leagues of Schumann’s pregnant silences and, while Franz’s “Im Rhein” is possibly easier for both performers and listeners to grasp, the Schumann is ultimately more rewarding. In the end it shows that, the greater the composer, the fewer notes he needs.
Having pursued the Heine theme it is perhaps a pity not to have continued it with Brahms. His Heine settings are admittedly few, but others by Franz could have been included. Still, his chosen songs allow Loges to show his paces in two of Brahms’s most famous melodies – his hushed singing of the second stanza of that lullaby (op. 49/4) showing him at his finest.