I have tried with this set of songs. I really have. I have listened to Miah Persson sing them beautifully; I have listened to Sarah Connolly sing them beautifully. I have done due diligence. But I confess I do not like them. Something about these things rubs me the wrong way.
I think part of it is probably the texts. Actually, I think most of it is the texts – and what with Schumann being the song composer that he was, the music brings the texts to life, and this is sort of the problem. The texts are by an individual named Adelbert von Chamisso. He is not made up; I checked. Neither is he a character in a Donizetti opera about Scotland; I checked that too. But the poetry is at once both saccharine and tone-deaf. By tone-deaf I mean it has that quality of a certain type of 19th century man explaining how women feel. Or how he assumes they ought to feel. Given the variety of human nature I am sure that some woman felt precisely like this at least once – but that is not really the point, and Mr. Chamisso would probably have talked over her anyway. There is nothing wrong with writing poems about falling in love, getting hitched, producing offspring and being sad when one’s partner dies. Many of us have done at least a few of those things. So did people in the nineteenth century. Plenty of songs and operas are about such matters. But – well, like I said, these texts rub me the wrong way.
Maybe there is some subversive recording of these out there in which the singer and pianist take what they seem to mean and turn them inside out and/or backwards?
All of that said, my most recent encounter with these songs was on that same recording of Sarah Connolly’s as the Op. 39 Liederkreis, and the treacly poetical stylings of Adelbert von Chamisso notwithstanding, I have listened to it three times and counting.