James Gilchrist - Schumann: Song Cycles - The Washington Post

Preparation for a career in classical music is long and rigorous, resembling in some ways a medieval apprenticeship. The British tenor James Gilchrist upped the ante by preparing for two rigorous careers at the same time: While working as a freelance singer, he completed his medical studies. Singing had always been a major component of his life, however, as a boy soprano at Oxford and, later, in King's Choir at Cambridge; and since he moved into singing full time in 1996, he hasn't looked back.

His latest recording, with the pianist Anna Tilbrook, presents three song cycles by Robert Schumann: "Dichterliebe" and the two "Liederkreis" cycles. Schumann had a keen eye for quality poems and his musical settings are particularly apt, so it's no surprise that Gilchrist, for whom the text is always front and center, should be such a successful Schumann interpreter. It is hard to imagine a seasoned actor declaiming these poems by Heine and Eichendorfer with greater clarity or feeling than Gilchrist sings them.

Gilchrist's voice is light, agile and always expressive. Tilbrook's sensitive, empathetic support enhances the disarming intimacy of their collaboration. "Dichterliebe," or "Poet's Love," contains some of Heine's best-known poems and Schumann's most beloved songs. Gilchrist and Tilbrook imbue the first song, "In the Lovely Month of May," with a palpable sadness, wistfully suggesting love's evanescence. Later, in the famous song "Ich grolle nicht" ("I bear no grudge, even though my heart may break"), Gilchrist uses his rich middle register to convey the irony of Heine's text, an element of the song often overlooked by other singers.

Few of us would have the stamina to relive the ups and downs of young love, but hearing its evocation in these beautiful songs superbly performed is a tantalizing reminder.


The Washington Post
27 November 2015