The Hyperion Schubert Lieder Edition, Part One

Maurice Richter

[November 2000. Originally appeared in La Folia 3:1.]

The magnificent Hyperion Schubert Lieder Edition is one of the major projects in the history of recorded music, encompassing the entire output of Schubert’s more than six hundred songs in performances by major artists. The project, whose first disc appeared in 1989, and which is now finally complete, was the brainchild of Graham Johnson, who is the superb piano accompanist in all of the recordings, as well as the author of the unsurpassed notes that accompany the discs. These notes taken together constitute probably the finest text on the Schubert songs that has yet appeared. They are profoundly scholarly, abundant, detailed, insightful, imaginatively written — and above all, fascinating to read. They make the listener a participant in an ongoing voyage of discovery. So generous is Hyperion with these notes (and complete texts and translations) that in order to contain such a thick brochure, some of the single discs have had to be packaged in jewel boxes normally used to house two or more CDs. In this day of frequently skimpy, superficial notes, or lieder recordings that lack even the text of the songs recorded, this is truly a labor of love. A word of praise, then, to Hyperion for a project that is not only monumental but truly unprecedented.

The Edition consists of thirty-seven discs. For the most part each features a single soloist drawn from the ranks of the finest contemporary exponents of the lied, though some of the discs present several singers. Above all, what makes the project unique is that it is the first attempt to record the complete oeuvre of all 610 or so songs of Schubert. Until quite recently only a relatively small body of well-known Schubert songs was repeated endlessly in concert and recording, with the great majority of truly fine ones being relegated to the dustbin of history without even being examined. This changed only when from 1966 to 1972 Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (with Gerald Moore) recorded all of the Schubert songs suitable for the male voice. Originally on LP, these are now available on twenty-one CDs. This was an amazing project, but ambitious as it was, it is dwarfed by the scale of this new enterprise. Here is every song Schubert ever wrote, including incomplete fragments (some completed by other hands). So many of the lesser-known ones are absolute gems deserving of much wider dissemination.

In his Introduction to the project, Graham Johnson notes that Schubert, when collating his songs for publication, gave careful consideration to the building of a program. He did not merely publish them in chronological order, but rather grouped songs from various periods either in accordance with their poetic source or guided by “philosophical or thematic lines and contrasts.” Johnson maintains these guiding principles in grouping the songs for recording so that the many discs constitute not merely a “musical marathon” as Johnson puts it, but rather a carefully chosen series of recitals of songs that really fit together as a program. The care, intelligence and knowledge with which this has been accomplished are extraordinary. Johnson says, “We aim to make this collection of records a comprehensive survey of the finest Schubert singers of our time, singing those parts of the repertory to which they are vocally and emotionally suited.” He has succeeded brilliantly in this task.

Commenting on the astonishing variety and universality of Schubert’s song legacy, John Reed, in his excellent The Schubert Song Companion notes that “Schubert is to modern Song what Shakespeare is to the drama, a nonpareil, the only begetter and exemplar.” His songs leave the student with the impression of a lyrical genius which was truly Shakespearean in its bulk and humanity, and in the phenomenal assurance with which it advanced from tentative beginnings to great masterpieces. Schubert not only discovered a new world, the world of the Romantic Lied; he mapped out the territory, opened up the routes which later adventurers were to follow and himself left the best descriptions of the terrain.

This Shakespearean power and variety are manifest in Schubert plucking a flower in “Heidenröslein,” then challenging the universe with his “Prometheus,” revealing with a shudder the “Grenzen der Menschheit,” (“The Boundaries of Humanity”), conveying the horror of the frightened child riding through the night in “Erlkönig,” and the quiet dedication in “An die Musik,” his ode to music itself.

Surprisingly, Schubert does not show a steady course of development as a song composer as he does in his instrumental works — some of his most magnificent songs, such as “Gretchen am Spinnrade” and “Erlkönig” date from his youth. In the latter song he harnessed the difficult mixture of epic, dramatic and lyrical elements to produce a work of unsurpassed unity. In this song, as in so many others, Schubert uses the sharpest melodic or harmonic characterizations to penetrate the meaning of the words.

In his early years, Schubert modeled his songs after those of Zumsteeg and Zelter, though these two lesser composers did not deal with the profound depths of human emotion that Schubert managed to plumb. The sudden outburst of German lyric poetry in the late eighteenth century, most importantly manifest in the works of Goethe, certainly contributed to the rise of the lied as a popular art form at the time, as did the rise of the piano accompaniment with its endless possibilities for musical comment.

Schubert’s more than six hundred songs fall into four basic categories: first, the simple strophic song which sets each verse of the poem to the same music; then, the modified-strophic song where Schubert’s endless variety defies classification (such as “Lachen und Weinen,” D777); thirdly, the durchkomponiert (through-composed) song in which various melodies and interpolated recitatives are welded together by the same basically unchanging accompaniment (such as “Die junge Nonne” D828 in Volume 15 or “Auflösung” in Volume 11); and finally the scena, made up of separate episodes each of different mood and tempo (such as “Der Wanderer,” D489 in Volume 32 or “Kriegers Ahnung,” D957, no.2).

In all these many songs Schubert was a master at absorbing the quality of a poem and producing an analogous quality in the music. The swift lyricism and movement of Goethe, on the one hand, and the pith and imagery of Heine on the other are perfectly paralleled in the music. His melodies are of an infinite variety and grace, full of pathos, making a very direct appeal to the listener. His harmony passes constantly from minor mode to major, and not as frequently from major to minor. He often makes use of the Neapolitan sixth and relationships based on it. A third characteristic of Schubert’s harmony is his way of passing suddenly into the key a major third below his tonic (as in “Nacht und Träume,” D827 in Volume 3, where the jump is from B major to G major).

Schubert was infinitely receptive to poetry (in which he undoubtedly immersed himself from early childhood on). He displays an easy familiarity with hundreds of textual sources, including plays and novels as well as poems, and ranging from the complete works of famous literary masters such as Goethe and Schiller to the amateur verses of friends. Through his passionate response to imaginative poetry, he brought the musical component of song to a level of expressiveness and unity that have never been surpassed. This ability to respond so magically to poetry brought forth in Schubert an infinite variety of styles and forms, melodic lines, modulations and accompaniment figures. His piano accompaniments perfectly encapsulate the brooks, streams and rivers that flow through his music, just as his walking or running rhythms become musical metaphors of human motion and as his tonic or dominant inflections reflect question and answer or moods of storm and calm. So also he uses the contrast between major and minor keys for laughter and tears or sunshine and shade and molds his melodies to the shape and stress of the verse.

It has become a cliché to say the history of song really begins with Schubert, but the history of song is as old as the history of music itself. We need only recall, for example, the medieval ars nova and songs of Machaut, the minnesongs, the sixteenth century Italian canzonetta, the seventeenth century arietta, John Dowland’s lute songs or the eighteenth century French chansons. While the ramifications of the song were particularly great on German soil, the German lied was hampered by a lack of really great poetry on the one hand and by the powerfully seductive influence of the Italian cantata and Italian aria with its beautiful cantilena passages on the other. As a reaction against this influence, a group of rationalistic North German composers wrote songs of great simplicity. Reichardt, for one, produced many strictly strophic songs. He, Zelter and Zumsteeg were all composers of opera or Singspiel and took over the expressive devices of these forms into their songs. But this was done only sparingly and with great restraint, guided by the eighteenth century attitude that both form and declamation must derive from the poem and no autonomy is to be granted the music. Goethe provided the new poetic impulse here, but it remained for Schubert to bring this art to its real fruition.

The songs of Schubert are both classical and romantic. They are classical in the sense that the melody, the vocal writing and the declamation of his songs are in complete equilibrium and that both the vocal and piano parts are subservient to the poem. His lieder are succinct and sometimes more dramatic even than the music of Verdi or Wagner. He is romantic in comparison to his predecessors and contemporaries in the superabundance, the overflow of music he provides for both the voice and the accompaniment. Schubert’s piano accompaniments immediately convey the feeling, the picture, the atmosphere of a song. They are acutely sensitive to the many pulsations of nature.

Schubert’s song writing is not restricted to a single pattern. Although he wrote strophic songs from the beginning to the end of his short career, he enlarged the form to the strophic song with variations when the text suggested this move. At the same time, he dared to create very bold, free innovative forms, always finding the right tone for the setting of each word. In his conscious elevation of harmony and instrumental accompaniment to equal importance with the poem and melody, he brought an overwhelming musical force to bear on the song form — a force sufficient to establish a perfect balance between poetry and music and to create a new relationship of poet to musician.

Schubert had a warm and supportive circle of friends who organized so-called “Schubertiads,” spirited evenings that combined music with literary discussions and provided the impoverished composer with performance opportunities for his works as well as a small source of income. At this time, the lyricism of Goethe provided the greatest inspiration for Schubert’s songs, but when he sent the famous writer the scores of some of the songs he had set to Goethe’s poems, along with a letter indicating his desire to make Goethe’s acquaintance, the letter was never answered. We can only venture the guess that Goethe preferred the simpler settings of his poems by Zumsteeg and Zelter, settings which left the poem as the dominant element, whereas for Schubert the music was at the least an equal partner in the collaboration.

The first disc in the series, CDJ33001, brings us Dame Janet Baker’s golden voice and great sensitivity. The mix of the more familiar and the less well-known songs set to poems by Goethe and Schiller is fascinating and repays repeated listening. In “Nähe des Geliebten,” Dame Janet communicates the lover’s devotion with an intimacy of feeling that is marvelous. In“Meeres Stille,” a song about a becalmed ship, she achieves an almost unearthly stillness. Always alert to the changing moods of these wonderful songs, she perfectly captures every nuance of feeling. The songs themselves provide endless fascination. The hushed quiet of “Wanderers Nachtlied” is followed by the ebullience of “Der Fischer” and then the simplicity of “Erster Verlust.” What is all the more remarkable is the fact that these three great songs of widely differing mood were written in a single day in 1815 by an eighteen year old Schubert. A truly outstanding lieder recital by a great singer with superb, insightful accompaniment by Graham Johnson, this disc is an auspicious beginning to this marvelous project.

The second disc in the series, CDJ33002, brings the fine baritone Stephen Varcoe in a group of songs dealing with water — fishermen’s songs, songs of the river, the boatman — even the voyage to Hades. A fascinating, varied collection, it closes with the extended ballad “Der Taucher” (“The Diver”) based on Schiller’s epic poem of twenty-seven verses. Varcoe and Johnson make of it an exciting, even thrilling work. Varcoe brings both sweetness and strength to his singing.

A lovely disc, CDJ33003, follows as a third volume, with Ann Murray singing some mostly quiet songs. Its theme is “Schubert and His Friends,” and it offers a selection of songs by Mayrhofer, von Spaun, Stadler, von Schober, and von Collin. These are generally intimate settings and Murray sings them exquisitely. One of the loveliest is the flower ballad “Viola” (“Violet”) set to a poem by von Schober, possibly Schubert’s closest friend. Schubert’s earlier essays at composing long ballads here reach a culmination in a seamlessly beautiful song, warmly, expressively sung by Murray, Johnson, as always, providing sensitive, intelligent, in fact impeccable support at the piano. “Trost im Liede” (“Comfort in Song”), written at the same time as the more famous “An die Musik” is an even more subtle hymn to the healing powers of music. The well-known“Nacht und Träume,” taken slowly, dreamily here, manages the impossible in its quiet suspension of time. Murray’s long legato line is exquisite. The CD closes with a marvelous parody song, “Epistel,” in which Schubert writes a mock lament in the style of Italian opera for a friend who had left Vienna to become a tax collector.

The fourth volume, CDJ33004, presents Philip Langridge (Ann Murray’s husband) in more songs to poems of Schubert’s friends. Langridge gives committed, dramatic performances and is in fine voice for these little-known songs. “Sehnsucht der Liebe,” set to a poem of Körner, is a bold song of many moods and fascinating harmonic modulations, while “Nachtstück,” to a poem of Mayrhofer, is a harmonically most engaging nocturne. These are all beautifully sung. Graham Johnson’s sensitive accompaniments, as in all these discs, cannot be bettered.

The fifth disc, CDJ33005, bringing us the soprano Elizabeth Connell, is organized around the theme “Schubert and the Countryside.” The familiar song “Das Lied im Grünen” is graced by Connell’s bright, silvery voice. Then in “Wehmut” she darkens her voice to capture the melancholy lyric. Connell has the large, sumptuous voice needed to bring off the powerful “Die Allmacht” a song of true monumental grandeur that is dramatically operatic in its emotional scope. She follows this with the simpler, quieter “Erinnerung” and the contrast is an effective one. The lesser known songs here are real discoveries deserving much wider exposure. As always, Johnson’s notes are encyclopedic, adding immeasurably to our enjoyment and understanding of the songs as well as to our appreciation of the era in which they were written.

The sixth disc, CDJ33006, on the theme “Schubert and the Nocturne” brings the tenor voice of Anthony Rolfe Johnson in such gems as “Abendstern,” where Schubert slips magically back and forth from major to minor tonality. Rolfe Johnson’s beautifully sensitive singing has never been better and delights the ear in Schubert’s two different settings of the same poem “Abends unter der Linde,” one written just one day after the other. “Vor meiner Wiege” (“Before my Cradle”) is a touching song deserving (as so many of these wonderful songs do) much greater recognition. A highlight of the disc is the hauntingly beautiful “Des Fischers Liebesglück,” a strophic song which Graham Johnson aptly describes as “a masterpiece of hypnotic enchantment.” This is lieder singing (and accompaniment) at its finest. Rolfe Johnson spins out a magical line, sustaining a superb legato in a song that requires and here achieves incredible breath control. I have never heard a better performance. Next on the disc is a sensitive performance of the well-known “Die Sterne.” Two of the songs, “Jagdlied” (“Hunting Song”) and “Zur guten Nacht” (“Goodnight”) bring a small male chorus. This is a truly wonderful disc.

The year 1815 has been called an annus mirabilis for Schubert’s song writing, since he produced about 150 songs during that year. The seventh disc in the series, CDJ33007, brings us Elly Ameling in a compilation of twenty-four of these, opening with the ballad “Minona oder die Kunde der Dogge” (“Minona, or the Mastiff’s Tidings”), which seems to be a first recording of this fine song of many moods, all perfectly captured by Ameling. “Meeres Stille” (“Calm at Sea”)in its first version (the second, more famous one was written a day later and appears in Volume 1, sung by Janet Baker) is hauntingly sung. The seriousness with which Schubert took the task of finding the perfect musical expression of a given poem is evidenced by the fact that he would often write several successive settings within a short space of time. Each of these settings is a unique composition quite different from its predecessors. Another worthy song here is “Das Rosenband,” surprisingly improvisatory in feeling. Beautifully sung, too, is “Kennst du das Land” (Mignon’s Song), better known in Hugo Wolf’s masterful setting of this great Goethe poem. The disc closes with two settings of Goethe’s “Sehnsucht” (“Longing” — Mignon’s Song), both written on the same day. This is wonderfully expressive singing, tenderly intimate when needed, powerfully dramatic where necessary.

The eighth volume, CDJ33008, whose theme is “Schubert and the Nocturne,” brings the warm, open mezzo-soprano of Sarah Walker in some familiar Schubert songs — a passionate “Stimme der Liebe,” an exquisitely tender “Wiegenlied” and an overwhelmingly powerful “Erlkönig.” Walker beautifully distinguishes the four voices — the narrator, the father, the son, and the Erl-King in a performance that is a revelation, because the drive and power of Johnson’s piano part (no mere accompaniment, this) are unsurpassed and the singing is superb. There are also fine performances of less well-known songs, four of which refer to the moon — “Die Sommernacht,” “Die frühen Gräber,” “Die Mondnacht,” and “An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht.” Walker enchants us in these mostly quiet songs. Her creamy, sensuous mezzo caresses the lovely lyrics and causes wonder at the neglect of these gems of the song literature. In the last of these songs, she brings a warm tenderness and perfect vocal control that linger long after the song is ended. This last is followed by “Die Nonne,” in which Walker brings power, drama and an absolutely gorgeous voice to bear on a long ballad of blood, thunder and revenge. A high point of the disc is the wonderfully exquisite, transparent singing by Walker and a male chorus in the first version of “Ständchen” (“Serenade”). For the sheer beauty of the singing alone, this disc is one of the best of the series.

The ninth disc, CDJ33009, whose theme is “Schubert and the Theatre,” features the late Arleen Augér in songs inspired by opera or the theater. Seven of these are in Italian, with four of them taken from librettos of Metastasio. Four others are extracts from the operas of Schubert which have found their way into the song repertory. Augér’s light, silvery soprano graces all of these including “Ich Schleiche bang und still herum,” the Romanze of Helene from Schubert’s opera Der häusliche Krieg and “der Vollmond strahlt,” the lovely, well-known Romanze from his Rosamunde. Augér’s direct simplicity in “Daphne am Bach” is endearing. Of the four Metastasio Canzonets, the last, “Mio ben ricordati,” stands out for its haunting vocal line. As Graham Johnson observes, this little piece anticipates the later bel canto songs of Bellini. The disc closes with the last work that Schubert wrote, the famous “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” (“The Shepherd on the Rock”), a scena in concertante style, with clarinet obbligato. Augér negotiates the difficult vocal line with complete ease and musicality.

The tenth disc, CDJ33010, brings Martyn Hill in a second recital of songs from the miraculous year 1815 (the first of these is Volume 7 with Elly Ameling). The disc opens with the ballad “Der Sänger” (“The Minstrel”) from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. This is the first of Schubert’s songs of the Harper, the crazed, morbid old man who bears the guilt of incest and is the father of Mignon, the waif-like heroine of Goethe’s tale. Here the Harper is anxious to please and sings a sprightly song quite different from the pessimistic, gloom-laden songs that constitute the usual trilogy of Goethe’s Harper songs (one of which ends this disc). Hill’s sweet but firm tenor soars here. He has a voice that is ever sensitive to the varying moods of the songs. There are fine songs here — “Auf einen Kirchhof,” “Am Flusse,” “An Mignon” — the first five bars of this last one being remarkably like those of the beginning of “Am Feierabend” from Die schöne Müllerin. A high point of the disc is the surprising “Adalwold und Emma,” a long narrative ballad (of thirty-eight stanzas!) that lasts for almost half an hour. Hill beautifully encompasses the high drama and passion as well as the lyricism of this powerful song, which is the longest of all of Schubert’s songs. Because of its length, performances are quite unlikely, and Fischer-Dieskau chose not to include it in his massive survey, so that it is a real achievement to capture the ballad in such a vivid, well-sung interpretation. Reed, in his Schubert Song Companion, comments on the naiveté of the pictorialism — a ghost in the night and the burning of the town — and refers to the piece as “a sort of do-it-yourslf opera for voice and piano, complete with dramatic effects.”

The eleventh disc, CDJ33011, brings the powerfully dramatic mezzo of Brigitte Fassbaender in songs on the theme of “Death and the Composer.” It opens with a spine-chilling account of “Der Tod und das Mädchen” (“Death and the Maiden”), one of Schubert’s greatest songs, sensitively accompanied by Johnson. Fassbaender, who retired recently, has been one of the most interesting singers of this generation, always acutely sensitive to the meaning of the text and dramatically charged in her interpretations. She does not disappoint here. The ritornello of the song is constructed on an obsessively repeated “death rhythm” — a long note followed by two short ones. The maiden’s impassioned plea to Death to pass her by contrasts magnificently with the frighteningly inexorable voice of Death bidding her to give him her hand. A great performance! The second song “Schwanengesang” (“Swan Song”) invokes the same death rhythm in an expressive, epigrammatic miniature. The ambivalence of the swan’s death song is depicted by an alternation of major and minor mode. This, like all the songs on this disc, is sung with the total emotional involvement that has always characterized Fassbaender’s singing.

Not all of the songs here are gloomy ones. “Auf dem Wasser zu singen” (“To be Sung on the Water), one of Schubert’s most perfect songs, is an incomparable strophic setting magically alternating between minor key and relative major, the piano semiquavers conjuring the gentle lapping of the waves against the boat in a truly sensual song. Johnson plays the difficult piano part superlatively. “An den Tod” (“To Death”) is pervaded with a tone of awe and mystery rather than apprehension. In this plea to Death to spare the newly-bloomed rose, Schubert uses a daring sequence of key modulations. “Der König in Thule” (“The King of Thule”) is modeled on Zelter’s earlier setting of Goethe’s poem (from Faust, Part One, Scene 8 of the play). The lovely melody is deliberately archaic, folk-song like in its mournful beauty. Fassbaender takes it just a bit more slowly than some other singers, emphasizing the song’s melancholy nature. In songs such as the second of Mignon, “So lasst mich scheinen” (“Let me Shine”) and the grand, majestic “Auflösung” (“Dissolution”), Fassbaender’s intensity is constantly entrancing. “Der Geistertanz” (“Ghost Dance”) is a macabre song of black humor, written with unerring skill, while “Thekla: eine Geisterstimme” (“Thekla: a Phantom Voice”), graced by Fassbaender’s warm mezzo, is a beautifully lyrical strophic song in which the contrast between earthly cares and heavenly joys is achieved by a shift from minor to major. “Das Zügenglöcklein” (“The Passing Bell”) is about the small tolling bell that is rung in Austrian churches as a call to prayer each time a parishioner is dying. The recital closes, surprisingly, with “Seeligkeit” (“Bliss”), one of Schubert’s most delightful melodies and one which might not be thought of in the context of Death. But this whimsically simple song of effortless spontaneity is included, says Johnson, in order to bring the listener back from heaven to earth. A fine conclusion to a superb disc, one of the best in the series, with some of Schubert’s greatest songs in unerring vocal performances matched by Johnson’s matchless pianism. Don’t miss it!

One of the few disappointments in this series is the twelfth disc, CDJ33012, in which Adrian Thompson performs twenty-one early Schubert songs written between 1811 and 1814. The earliest of these, “Der Vatermörder” (“The Parricide”), is only the fourth song that Schubert wrote for voice and piano. The problem here is that Thompson, who does have an expressive voice, also has an unsteady one and lacks complete control over his vocal technique. Though there is a lovely quality when he floats his phrases properly, he frequently pushes and the phrasing becomes uncertain, the voice tight and unpleasant. At these moments there is a tendency to shout. Nevertheless, the disc is interesting because it presents some of Schubert’s very earliest, less well-known songs.

The thirteenth disc, CDJ33013, brings the soprano Marie McLaughlin in “Lieder Sacred and Profane,” several of the songs Goethe settings for Gretchen in Faust, while others derive from Scottih ballads by Sir Walter Scott and others. The opening song, “Das Marienbild” (“Picture of the Virgin Mary”), is a simple, courtly strophic song, sung sweetly by McLaughlin.The teasing earthiness of the second song “Die Unterscheidung” (“The Distinction”) provides an effective contrast of mood with the purity of the first. It is charmingly sung. “Die Männer sind mechant” (“Men are Naughty”) is a delightfully coy song about a girl duped and betrayed by naughty men. McLaughlin has an open, sweet, bright voice that is graced with considerable charm, a beautiful legato and a perfect understanding of the many moods of these contrasting songs. It is a warm voice produced in an unforced manner and always a pleasure to listen to. McLaughlin sings “Gretchen am Spinnrade”(“Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel”), one of Schubert’s earliest and greatest songs, with extraordinarily mounting intensity in a dramatically powerful performance with superb accompaniment by Johnson. This is followed by the “Szene aus Faust” (“Scene from Faust“), a dialogue between Gretchen and the Evil Spirit, with Chorus (the Evil Spirit sung by Thomas Hampson). It was written six weeks after “Gretchen am Spinnrade” and receives a highly dramatic, operatic treatment. In his accompanying notes Johnson comments: “It mirrors the words in a flow of recitative which can only be compared to that of Wagner in its harmonic audacity and expressive power; it is as if Mephistopheles has emboldened the composer to look into the future.” McLaughlin’s sensitive, expressive voice, accurate placement and fine legato are wonderful.The innocent Gretchen has succumbed to the charms of Faust, become pregnant, and the Evil Spirit taunts her with her pregnancy, even to accusing her of planning to commit infanticide, thus planting the seed of this idea in her mind. “Gretchen’s Bitte” (“Gretchen’s Prayer”) is the last of the group of Gretchen songs in this recital. It is an incomplete fragment — Schubert set only five of Goethe’s eight verses — that has been skillfully and idiomatically completed by Benjamin Britten. It is an affecting song, an extended scena of operatic quality, and McLaughlin sings it beautifully. Most of the remainder of the disc is devoted to songs derived from Scottish ballad poetry. “Shilrik und Vinvela” is based on one of the Ossian poems of James Macpherson. It is sung here as a dialogue, with Thomas Hampson ably assisting, as is the next song, “Eine altschottische Ballade” (“An old Scottish Ballad”). This poem is better known in the famous setting “Edward” by Loewe, written nine years before Schubert’s song and much more dramatic. Schubert’s setting, though, is hypnotically sinister in its bare-boned simplicity. Several settings of Sir Walter Scott poems round out the disc, including “Normans Gesang” (“Norman’s Song”) from “The Lady of the Lake,” here excitingly sung by Thomas Hampson to a piano accompaniment effectively illustrating the galloping of the horse on which the warrior rides. The three songs of Ellen from Scott’s “Lady of the Lake” round out this fine group. A wonderful recital that I highly recommend.

Volume fourteen of the edition, CDJ33014, brings Thomas Hampson’s rich baritone (with Marie McLaughlin now assisting in two of the songs). The theme of this recital is “Schubert and the Classics.” This is one of Hampson’s finest recordings and one of the best sung discs in the Schubert edition. The first song “Die Götter Griechenlands” (“The Gods of Greece”) is taken from a sixteen stanza poem of Schiller, an ode to the glory that was Greece as well as a lament for “a lost paradise of the Romantic imagination.” Schubert chose to set only the twelfth stanza, that which best expresses the sense of loss. An other-worldly, melancholy, remote mood prevails in this song of deliberately ambiguous tonality, hauntingly sung by Hampson. “Amphiaraos,” an almost unknown song, is a highly dramatic ballad about Amphiaraus, the son of Apollo, who was persuaded by his wife Eriphyle to participate in the expedition of the seven against Thebes. Forseeing his own fate, he ordered his children to avenge his death by killing their mother. While Amphiaraus fled from the beleaguered city, the god Zeus dispatched a thunderbolt which opened a cleft in the ground into which horse, chariot and driver disappeared. This brilliant song, Reed notes, “is a splendid vehicle for a powerful and flexible voice.” Hampson’s firm, heroic interpretation of this and the other songs here is well worth hearing. “Gruppe aus dem Tartarus” (“Group from Hades”) is presented first in Schubert’s earlier, incomplete attempt at setting Schiller’s powerful poem, then in the second version of 1817. The contrast between the two settings perfectly illustrates the gain in Schubert’s musical and intellectual horizons over the period of eighteen months separating the two settings and his newfound ability to match the Miltonic grandeur of Schiller’s poem. Hampson performs it dramatically, in epic fashion. “Hektors Abschied” (“Hector’s Farewell”) is a dialogue between Hector and his wife Andromache (here plaintively sung by Marie McLaughlin) whose lyrical pleas in F minor and A minor provide the more eloquent music. The music for Hector is more formal and stately. “Memnon” provides a quiet contrast with the previous song — a slow, majestic, noble, lyrical outpouring. “Fragment aus dem Aeschylus” (“Fragment from Aeschylus”) is a translation by Mayrhofer of a Chorus passage from the Eumenides (lines 540-555). It is an impressive dramatic scena, powerfully sung by Hampson. “Uraniens Flucht” (“Urania’s Flight”) is a long (twenty-seven stanza) solo cantata, whose length has precluded any possibility of performance. It is the last of Schubert’s extended solo cantatas and makes less use of recitative than did his earlier essays in this form. The song ranges widely in mood and expression, but its loose episodic form detracts somewhat from its impact. “Antigone und Oedip” (“Antigone and Oedipus,”) like the previous songs, derives from a poem of Mayrhofer. It is a dramatic scena in epic style, sung here by Marie McLaughlin and Hampson, both of whom do ample justice to the long-breathed melodic phrases. Hampson’s legato line is beautiful to hear. “Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren” (“Boatman’s Song to the Dioscuri”) and several other Mayrhofer settings follow, concluding with Schubert’s setting of “An die Leier” (“To my Lyre”) to a translation by Franz von Bruchmann of a sixth century B.C. lyric by the poet Anacreon. This well-known song is playfully ironic and erotic in tone. Schubert effectively contrasts the poet’s conflicting moods, setting the epic sentiments in passionate recitative and the amatory ones in a long, flowing melody. These are juxtaposed and alternated, not linked, and this contrast provides the great musical effectiveness of the song. Hampson, as in all of the songs here, is vital, earnest, dramatic where needed and sweet when this quality is called for. His is a major contribution to the series.

All of the thirty-seven discs of this immense undertaking are now finally available. I have spent many wonderful hours listening to them and will review the remaining volumes in the next issue.


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