Lieder: Brahms, Schumann, Mahler by Renee Fleming
Schumann’s Frauenliebe und –leben was groundbreaking: it was the first song cycle composed to be sung by a woman and from her perspective. As the title indicates, the cycle follows the life and love of a nineteenth-century woman, from the time she first sets eyes on her beloved, through marriage, childbirth, and finally bereavement. Considering it starts with youth and ends with the wisdom of old age, is it more suitable for a young soprano or a mature one?
For her first lieder album in twenty years, soprano Renée Fleming – a woman at the height of her singing career – has finally chosen to add Schumann’s cycle to her discography. She approaches Frauenliebe und –leben from the latter end of the experience and age spectrum, and interprets the opening songs with wistfulness and nostalgia. Unlike younger interpreters of the cycle, Fleming brings palpable love, loss, heartbreak and knowing to the closing ‘Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan’. Her voice is just as luscious as on her previous lieder album, but she now brings with her twenty years’ more life experience. In the liner notes Fleming explains that ‘there is a delicacy to it, I think, that is very moving’. That delicacy is evident in her performance.
Alongside the Schumann Fleming has also recorded lieder by Brahms and Mahler, and I just love her voice in this repertoire: it’s rich and warm and full of feeling. Fleming’s impeccable singing technique means that, even at sixty, her voice sounds fresh and brilliant as ever. Simple, beautiful, and tenderly performed by Fleming and Hermut Höll, the opening Wiegenlied by Brahms is a particular highlight. Renée Fleming’s latest lieder album has prompted me to delve into her back catalogue and enjoy her 1999 Schubert album – and I encourage all Fleming fans to do the same.