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Mezzo-soprano: Michelle Breedt
Nina Schumann
Cat. #: TP1039251 | Single CD
Label: TwoPianists Records
Recorded at: Endler Hall, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, January 4 - 8, 2010


Following the success of her previous disc with TwoPianists entitled Shakespeare Inspired, Michelle Breedt presents a beautiful collection of songs by Schubert in a compilation called Jahreszeiten (Seasons). The collection opens with the famous An die Natur, which becomes the central theme of The Seasons, for Schubert represents the Seasons through his observations of nature. And indeed nature is superbly represented through some of the composer’s most hidden gems, including the mammoth Viola. Michelle Breedt is no stranger to the international stages having appeared in numerous productions at the Salzburg Festspiele, Bayreuth and the ENO. Her recent appearances in The Passenger garnered extraordinary reviews. She has found the perfect partner in Nina Schumann, founding member of TwoPianists, and an accompanist of note. Together they will appear in Wigmore Hall, Tonhalle and the Schubertiade (Spain) in the 2013/2014 season. Jahreszeiten is a rich document – attractive to both the eye and the ear.
ERFREULICH ORIGINELL - Die Aufnahmequalität der CD lässt zudem nichts zu wünschen übrig.
Guy Wagner Pizzicato, March 2013

The weather is often a topic broached by strangers meeting to smooth over an awkward silence and is used knowingly or unknowingly to establish common ground. The seasons, influencing the weather, govern our day-to day existence, the annual cycle determines our very survival by enabling the growing of our foodstuffs. The seasons influence our moods and are a metaphor for our life cycle.
Nature, and the various seasons, inspired Franz Schubert to compose his arguably greatest song cycle (Die Winterreise) and some of his most beautiful songs . Some purely revel in the description of fauna and flora whilst others symbolically take us on a journey mirroring human emotions.
Spring is the season which Schubert sets the most frequently. My choice to sing only one song for the season Spring on this disc, the lengthy Viola, known as one of Schubert‘s finest ballads, is a very personal one.
How often have I, like Viola, with the first warming rays of the sun after a long winter, filled with the promise of heat, light and new energy, dashed to pack away winter clothes just to be dreadfully disappointed when the cold weather comes snapping back. I always seem to fall into the same trap every year! I understand and feel for the violet which pays the ultimate price. Spring can be seen as the bittersweet season, the plants blooming and then dying to give birth to the life of the fruit.
Michelle Breedt (March 2012)


1 An die Natur, D.372
2 Morgenlied, D.685 (Op.4 No.2)
3 Lilla an die Morgenröte, D.273
4 Blumenlied, D.431
5 Der Schmetterling, D.633 (Op.57 No.1)
6 Heidenröslein, D.257 (Op.3 No.3)
7 Die Rose, D.745 (Op.73)
8 Die Sommernacht, D.289
9 Herbstlied, D.502
10 Erntelied, D.434
11 Herbst, D.945
12 Der Herbstabend, D.405
13 An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht, D.614

14 Der stürmische Morgen, D.911 No.18 (Op.89 No.18)
15 Winterlied, D.401
16 Das Lied vom Reifen, D. 532
17 Der Winterabend, D.938
18 Viola, D.786 (Op. Posth. 123) | BONUS Digital release: Frühlingsglaube, D.686


OperaNews, June 2013

Relative newcomers to Schubert lieder so often take the "greatest hits" approach, on the logical grounds that an equation should have only so many unknowns. Mezzo-soprano Michelle Breedt and pianist Nina Schumann make riskier choices in this program of songs evoking the four seasons. Even more than repertoire, it's their manner that demands attention.
Breedt's curriculum vitae cites Wagner's Venus and Brangäne, but on this recording she most often has a lyric-mezzo brightness and focus; she rarely uses chest voice, she phrases with unusual delicacy, and she articulates the German texts with poetic sensitivity. Pianist Schumann — who, like Breedt, comes from South Africa, where the recording was made — can be both forceful and feather-light, sometimes catching period flavor in her crisp articulation on a modern piano.
The duo's Schubertian year starts slowly, with summer themes driven home in repetitive folk or hymn stanzas that are almost routine — until, that is, "Heidenröslein." That frequently heard ditty, a setting of Goethe's miniature confrontation between a boy and a rose, has been mined for hints of menace by other recent performers, but here it verges on seduction. Breedt and her pianist take extreme liberties with the pacing, slowing to indulge her gorgeously spun pianissimos, a delicate form of provocative, flirtatious humor.
There's less posturing, but no less conviction, in her treatment of "Die Sommernacht," a composition unusual in its freedom and rambling form, which moves from recitative to arioso before finally striking a vein of powerful lyricism that ends all too soon. The singer and accompanist confidently shape the loosely structured passages with distinct accents; with no sign of effort, Breedt's timbre lightens at the mention of the grave to forge a strong emotional connection with the listener.
Exuberant celebration of the joys of harvest time ("Erntelied"), especially by the vibrant piano, help to set off the dark, pained treatment of the windy "Herbst" (Autumn), which sees death everywhere, from wilting roses to the distant stars. This work, with its minor-key rising theme in the piano, can be effective at various tempos, as former interpretations attest, but seldom is it so harrowing as here. The hammered accompaniment seems, almost brutally, to drive the voice, which suggests resistance and struggle, and there's still plenty of force in the decelerated later stanzas.
Given the distinctive profile achieved in this and several other selections, it's surprising to encounter some near misses. One of the longest and most challenging songs, "An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht" (To the Moon, on an Autumn Evening), finds these artists for once slightly vague. Breedt's voice is sluggish on the clusters of quick notes and a little hollow in the lower range, while Schumann misses the sparkling lunar effects of the dancing march that acts as a refrain. The rhythmic dexterity heard in the first winter songs, and Breedt's varied colorings in "Das Lied vom Reifen," give every promise of success for the fireside reflection "Der Winterabend" (The Winter Evening) — but that selection finds the singer thin and strained in some phrases, as if she had chosen too low a key.
The final season, spring, is represented only by "Viola," a ballad lasting nearly fifteen minutes on the death of a flower (referred to as "Schneeglöcklein," or snow drop). This may be the most contrarian choice on the program, a piece that risks sounding exaggerated or maudlin. Pianist/musicologist Graham Johnson has called the wide-ranging work "a piece of vocal chamber music" and compared it to sonata-movement forms such as the rondo. He recorded it splendidly, in 1988, with the estimable Ann Murray, and there's also much to admire in the charming recording by Anne Sofie von Otter. But even the supremely musical version by Johnson and Murray almost pales beside the dramatic conviction we hear so intensely in the performance by Breedt and Schumann. Chamber music? Yes, but — in their dedicated hands — almost a chamber opera.

Juan Francisco Román Rodríguez
Ritmo, June 2013
Programa inteligentemente diseñado el de esta grabación de canciones de Schubert, seleccionadas según las diferentes estaciones del año y su relación con el discurrir de la vida, algo muy querido del romanticismo alemán y especialmente de Franz Schubert. Las piezas escogidas, salvo algún caso concreto como Heidenröslein, no se encuentran entre lo más frecuentado del autor alemán, lo que amplía su interés. La protagonista de esta grabación, Michele Breedt tiene tras de sí una amplia carrera operística que ha compaginado con recitales de lieder, aunque es en la ópera donde ha dado lo mejor de sí, como cuadra a una intérprete de una fuerte impronta teatral. En este recital, se encuentra vocalmente cómoda, las piezas elegidas no tienen grandes exigencias de tesitura o potencia. A Breedt se le nota su experiencia en unas lecturas bien planteadas, de dicción siempre inteligible y cuidadosas en el legato, aunque desearíamos una expresión más alquitarada que contrastara con nitidez las distintas canciones evitando una cierta sensación de uniformidad a la que contribuye la pianista Nina Schumann con un sonido mortecino y un sentido del rubato escasamente variado.

Guy Wagner
Pizzicato, March 2013
Originell ist diese weitere Einspielung mit Schubert-Liedern jedenfalls! Die südafrikanische Sängerin Michelle Breedt und ihre Begleiterin und Mitbegründerin des Labels 'Two Pianists Records', Nina Schumann, haben eine Auswahl getroffen, die sich mit der Thematik des Jahresablaufs in Schuberts Liedschaffen befasst. 'An die Natur' D. 372 ist sozusagen als Motto vorausgesetzt, ehe dann Lieder zu den einzelnen Jahreszeiten folgen.
Am besten vertreten ist der Sommer mit sieben Liedern, dem Herbst sind deren fünf vorbehalten, dem Winter vier, darunter 'Der stürmische Morgen' aus 'Winterreise', und der Frühling muss sich mit einem begnügen, aber welchem: 'Viola' (14'16)! Überhaupt ist diese CD eine echte Entdeckungsreise, da die Interpretinnen nicht auf allzu Bekanntes zurückgegriffen haben (am berühmtesten ist noch 'Heidenröslein' D. 257), sondern aus dem riesigen Liederschatz Schuberts dem Thema entsprechende, bestens gegliederte Kompositionen ausgewählt haben, die zusammen ein interessantes Ganzes darstellen. Dieses reicht vom 'Blumenlied' D. 431 übers "Erntelied" D. 434 zum 'Das Lied vom Reifen' D. 532. Noch erfreulicher ist, mit wieviel Nuancen und welchem Textverständnis diese kluge Auslese dargeboten wird. Michelle Breedts versteht es, mit ihrer in allen Lagen abgerundeten, warmen Stimme den Gehalt der einzelnen Lieder mit ebensoviel Intensität wie Einfühlungsverm.gen wiederzugeben. Das gelingt ihr umso besser, als Nina Schumann ihre ideale Partnerin ist, die hinzuhören versteht und die richtigen Akzente zu setzen weiß. Die Aufnahmequalität der CD lässt zudem nichts zu wünschen übrig.