Unfortunately the performances given on this recording tend to be missing the refined musicality one would expect from soprano Kate Royal. In general the overall singing is lacking the power to project the words with immediacy and conviction. Schumann selected texts by Goethe, Byron, Heine and Joseph von Eichendorff making them into song cycles. Kate Royal chose the popular cycle Liederkreis Op.39 to start with dubbed by the composer "my most romantic music ever". Mondnacht and Schone Fremade, are songs of the night. Royal is inconsistent in her ability to create the varying moods and atmospheres of passion, intimacy and humanity in both, which are superbly conveyed by soprano Lois Marshall in her recording. Despite valid attempts, the voice tends to lack the necessary purity, charm and simplicity. In the upper range Royal allows the voice to become thin instead of giving greater support especially on softer notes. As well, pianist Graham Johnson needs to play a more supportive role, something that is absolutely essential in lieder and would provide Royal opportunities to shape the exceptionally long phrases more seamlessly, allow them to linger here and there, make use of tonal inflections and nuances, an attribute she magnificently possesses. With greater team work in the other songs of this cycle, the conveying of murmuring brooks, restling treetops, moonlit fields and singing nightingales would become more refreshingly consistent than they already are. The remainder of the recording does offer duo singing that effectively provides moments of enthusiasm and exciting characterisations in Schumann's style. Along with other younger singers providing moments of vocal drama and revelation the recording is notable for its overall fleetness and light-hearted approach. Despite my feeling that there is need for more beautifully and lyrically shaped phrases, greater collaboration between Royal and Johnson to keep the underlying communication unbroken, there are indeed comprehensive, thoughtful and finely detailed ideas making this disc worthwhile having.
I would suggest however, that if you are just beginning to start adding recordings of Schumann's song cycles to your music library, that you listen to several others first. Other artists to consider; Elly Ameling, Renee Fleming, Jessye Norman, Lois Marshall, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.
Author: Raymond Vacchino M.Mus. A.Mus. L.R.S.M. Licentiate (honorary)