The Hyperion Schubert Lieder Edition, Part Two

Maurice Richter

[January 2001. Originally appeared in La Folia 3:2.]

The Hyperion Schubert Lieder Edition, one of the major achievements in the history of recording, is now complete, with thirty-seven CDs containing all of Schubert’s song output. More than ten years in the making, it is an unprecedented tribute to the imaginative power and perseverance of Graham Johnson, its originator. Johnson has not only served as superb accompanist on all of the discs but has written the notes that have provided what amounts to probably the finest text yet written on the Schubert songs. The care, forethought and intelligence with which he has planned the Edition are extraordinary. More than fifty singers have been employed, with the individual songs carefully tailored to their unique talents. The artists themselves constitute a pantheon of great lieder singers of the present and recent past. Each of the discs has been carefully planned around a central theme, and taken together they are an endlessly fascinating listening experience. The vision, intelligence and thoroughness with which the project has been realized are also a tribute to Ted Perry, whose Hyperion Records has been a labor of love.

In the last issue of La Folia, I reviewed the first fourteen volumes of the set. (These reviews can be accessed in the Archives.) Here we continue with Volume 15.

The rich, warm, well-focused voice of Dame Margaret Price graces Volume 15, CDJ33015, the third and last disc in the series devoted to night songs. Price opens quietly with “An die untergehende Sonne,” an ode to the setting sun. A middle section surprises with its contrasting sprightliness, followed by a return to the quiet mood of the opening. The second song, “Der Mondabend” (“The Moonlit Evening“) is a strophic song of robust mood, whose bursts of energy betray the fact that the song is less an expansive serenade to the splendors of the night than a passionate expression of the impatient poet in love. The third song, “Klage an den Mond” (“Lament to the Moon”), is a quiet gem of great emotional density — the first verse deals with the past and tells of a silver moon shining down on a happy youth, while the contrasting second verse deals with the present. Now the moonlight falls on a chastened, unhappy young man. The vocal line remains the same as that of the first strophe, but the piano part is partially reharmonized, rendering the sadder mood. The third verse deals with the future — a sudden shift to the key of D Minor and we are faced with the poet’s chilling forecast of his own imminent death, the ever-present moon now shining down on his tombstone. The emotional journey of the poet here is a remarkable, suitably condensed precursor to the later song cycle Winterreise. The fourth song, “Die Mainacht” (“May Night”), is bewitching, its folk-like magic quite different from Brahms’ later setting of the same poem. Price is utterly captivating here, as she is in all these songs — a superb voice allied to a subtle interpretive instinct. She brings enormous power where it is required and warm, intimate charm where that is the requisite. “Der Unglückliche” (“The Forlorn One”), is a fine dramatic scena, expressively sung by Price. Its opening section echoes the Andante movement of the A Major Piano Sonata, D664.

“Kolmas Klage” (“Colma’s Lament”) is the first of Schubert’s “Ossian” settings (actually to poems of James Macpherson) and probably the best of these. Dispensing with recitative, “it has the unity of mood of the true ballad” according to John Reed (in his The Schubert Song Companion). Its superb opening is dark and oracular in mood and Price is magnificent, almost operatic in grandeur and intensity. “Der Wanderer an den Mond” (“The Wanderer Addresses the Moon“) is probably the most familiar of Schubert’s songs about the moon. Its nostalgia and directness give it the quality of a folk song. Price sings it with great vivacity to a particularly earthy accompaniment by Johnson — a delight in every way. This CD is full of gems and is one of the high points of the Edition.

Volume 16, CDJ33016, brings Thomas Allen in songs to poems of Schiller. The recital opens with “Leichenfantasie” (“Funereal Fantasy”), one of Schubert’s earliest song settings. It is hard to listen to the extraordinarily powerful opening of this vivid extended song and believe that it was composed by a youth of fourteen! The song is a revelation; it ranges far, both tonally and expressively, and Allen sings it with great sensitivity. Johnson’s strong accompaniment makes him a truly equal partner, and his accompanying notes are voluminous, profoundly insightful and fascinating to read.

Schubert’s setting of Schiller’s “An die Freude” (“Ode to Joy”) surprisingly anticipates Beethoven’s setting of the same poem in the finale of the Ninth Symphony by at least seven years. Its somewhat superficial heartiness is not a match for the profundity of the Beethoven setting, but Allen sings it with great enthusiasm. “Das Geheimnis” (“The Secret”), in its second Schubert setting, is a modified strophic song and one of the finest of the Schiller set. Allen captures every mood. “Die Burgschaft” (“The Hostage”) is one of the most famous of Schiller’s ballads. Schubert’s attraction to the subject led him to write not only this through-composed ballad of twenty verses but also an opera on the same subject, which, containing sixteen numbers, was left unfinished. The ballad covers a wide range of moods, to each of which Allen is responsive. Graham Johnson’s notes here constitute a lengthy and fascinating major essay on the song.

Volume 17, CDJ33017, features the late (and lamented) Lucia Popp in twenty-three songs from 1816, a very productive year for Schubert. Popp’s girlish, silvery voice remained intact and fresh through the years, along with her pure-toned production and breath control, so that in the recording she commands the long legato line needed in many of these songs. The beauty of her voice is further enhanced by her careful attention to words. A highlight of the disc is an extraordinary performance of one of Schubert’s greatest songs, “Litanei” (“Litany”). This is a carefully considered and deeply satisfying performance. Popp encapsulates the song’s depth of feeling and devotional mood as well as I have ever heard.

The CD opens with “Lied: Mutter geht durch ihre Kammern” (“Song: Mother Goes Through her Rooms”), a simple strophic song whose minor mode gives it a folksong-like quality. It is sung with freshness and beautifully shaped phrasing. Popp then turns to “Lodas Gespent” (“Loda’s Ghost”), a dramatic “Ossian” setting. Her ability to bring words to life and careful attention to musical detail animate this extended song, and Johnson gives strong support. Her well-focused pure voice captures the sorrowful passion of “Klage” (“Lament”). The second version of “Lorma” (“Lorma”) is a fragment of an “Ossian” poem of James Macpherson. Its mournful opening, impassioned aria, romantic anguish and touching close are caught to perfection by Popp. “Der Herbstabend” (“Autumn Evening”) is an unaccountably neglected gem and Popp’s fresh, clear-voiced interpretation captures its tender melancholy.

Popp’s silvery freshness and sense of line are again evident in the first version of “Die Einsiedelei” (“The Hermitage”). “Die Herbstnacht” (“Autumn Night”), tinged with melancholy, has the quality of a folk-song. The purity of Popp’s singing here and her long legato line, along with the subtle harmonic shifts characteristic of Schubert give this song a bel canto beauty. “Lied in der Abwesenheit” (“Song of Absence”) is an incomplete fragment which, if finished, would certainly be a minor masterpiece. Five bars of music have been provided by Eusebius Mandyczewski to complete the piece, but they do not quite fulfill the suggestion of tripartite form inherent in Schubert’s score. The opening section in B Minor is full of pathos and Popp shapes its line beautifully. A joyous G Major section follows, providing a delightful contrast. Two Hölty settings, “Frühlingslied” (“Spring Song”) and “Winterlied” (“Winter Song”), are lovely evocations of seasons, full of spontaneous charm and warm, naturally expressed feelings. The first has a rippling accompaniment appropriate to the season, the second a bare, simple one. These two are exquisitely sung gems, characteristically Schubertian. “Minnelied” (“Love Song”), another Hölty setting, is full of the quiet melancholy that pervades many a Schubert song. It is another buried treasure that deserves resuscitation, as do so many of these wonderful songs. A very different and much more famous setting of the poem was later made by Brahms.

Strong contrast is provided by “Aus ’Diego Manzanares’: Ilmerine” (“From ’Diego Manzanares’: Ilmerine”). Ilmerine is the heroine of the play Diego Manzanares, written by one of Schubert’s friends Baron von Schlechta, who was twenty when he wrote it, just one year older than the composer. Schubert has written for Ilmerine what amounts to an effective, small-scale opera aria. It is one of his very few attempts at a Spanish style, here achieved by accents on the off beats and left hand chords suggesting the guitar. It is strikingly effective, particularly as Popp sings it, and both Johnson in his notes and Reed in his Schubert Song Companion observe that it is difficult to understand the universal indifference that has greeted the song. “Pflicht und Liebe” (“Duty and Love”) is another little-known song of anguished melancholy, here passionately sung by Popp, again with a lovely sense of the long, flowing line. “Am Grabe Anselmos” (“At Anselmo’s Grave”) is a lament sung by a father whose son has died. Popp eloquenly, touchingly limns its quiet, expressive power. “An die Nachtigall” (“To the Nightingale”) is a simple, sweet, rapturous song in which Johnson aptly notes “classical poise and restraint are suffused with a number of achingly beautiful intimations of the Romantic era.” This is one of the greatest and at the same time simplest of the 1816 songs.

“Phidile” (“Phidile”), a simple, folksong-like melody, deals with the seduction of a sixteen year old girl by a handsome young man, who, when asked the meaning of his attentions, falls on her neck, weeps, and disappears. “If only he would come back again!” Phidile laments. Song and singer are charming. Popp closes her recital with a flawless rendition of “An mein Klavier” (“To my Piano”), a song of unerring simplicity and directness.

With many worthwhile songs that surely deserve more frequent performance and poised, heartfelt singing by Popp, this CD is sheer delight. Graham Johnson’s superb pianism, his encyclopedic notes along with the fine sound of the CD make this a treasurable disc!

“Schubert and the Strophic Song” is the theme of Volume 18, CDJ33018, with Peter Schreier who has elsewhere recorded the three great Schubert song cycles to much acclaim. The first of the strophic songs included here, “Das Finden” (“The Find”) is one of the best of Schubert’s settings of Kosegarten poems. The charm of the vocal line matches the innocence of the words, and Schreier sings it beguilingly. “An den Schlaf” (“To Sleep”) involves only a single page of music and is a real discovery, with the formal perfection of the classical canzonet. Schreier caresses it lovingly. In “Blumenlied” (“Flower Song“), Schreier perfectly conveys the genial high spirits and infectious jauntiness of the song. “Erntelied” (“Harvest Song”) is a lighthearted setting of a Hölty poem. Schreier’s hearty enthusiasm and extroverted performance suit the music perfectly. Johnson magically turns this piano accompaniment into an underpinning of woodwinds. The first version of “Das Heimweh” (“Homesickness”) is a superb song, one of Schubert’s minor masterpieces and not very well known. Schreier fully communicates its expressive chromaticism, sadness and passionate eloquence.

In his accompanying notes, Johnson calls “An die Entfernte” (“To the Distant Beloved”) “a little masterpiece … full of wonderful subtleties.” It is a lovely, sad song to a poem of Goethe. Schreier captures its spontaneity and immediacy when he expressively sings the words “O komm, Geliebte, mir zurück!” (“Come back to me, beloved!”)

In an innovative vein, Johnson has grouped nine songs (and a fragment of a tenth) based on the Poetisches Tagebuch (Poetic Diary) of the troubled, disturbed poet Ernst Schulze into a new song cycle, which, using a line of the first song, “Auf der Bruck,” he calls Auf den wilden Wegen (On the Wild Paths). Johnson’s action is not unprecedented, since it was Schubert’s publisher, Tobias Haslinger, who, after all, invented a new song cycle by publishing Schubert’s last songs under the title Schwanengesang. The new cycle clearly anticipates Winterreise. It, too, deals with an unhappy love affair, which Schulze’s fevered mind sadly imagined, the real life object of his attentions not in any way reciprocating his feelings. In the first song here, “Auf der Bruck” (“At Bruck”), one of Schubert’s best known songs, the driving piano part imitates the galloping horse, while the poet sings of his journey back to his beloved. Schreier is powerfully dramatic here, Johnson marvellously driving in the difficult piano part. Schreier’s careful attention to the words of “Im Walde” (“In the Forest”) and his passionate singing, together with Johnson’s superb pianism make this an exciting song of great beauty. “Im Frühling” (“In Spring”) is one of Schubert’s greatest songs. John Reed notes that it speaks “with a spirit of lazy contentment.” The music of this wonderful song seems to dawdle, dragging its feet as only Schubert’s music can; it is as though the burden of time itself has been lifted. Schreier sings it to perfection. The final Schulze song “An mein Herz” (“To my Heart”) is one of the finest of the cycle — the poet’s obsessive flight from his own loneliness dominates. As in all these songs, Schreier is sensitive to every slight shift in mood, always mirroring the exact sentiment of the moment. This song and the cycle as a whole clearly anticipate the later Winterreise. A wonderful disc, this!

Volume 19 features Felicity Lott in songs dealing with flowers, with the stars, and with breezes and winds. Most of these quite charming songs are unfamiliar, but some of Schubert’s greatest songs are here too — the recital opens with “Nachtviolen” (“Dame’s Violets”) in a slightly labored performance in which Lott strives for a purity of tone which she is not always able to achieve. “Gott in Frühlinge” (“God in Spring”) is fresher, more spontaneous. Occasionally, however, Lott seems so concerned with the sound she is producing that she loses the sense of the words. Much of what she does is charming. In “Der Blumenschmerz” (“The Flowers’ Pain“) she is at her best, the voice firm and the interpretation showing real sensitivity to the words. “Die Sterne” (“The Stars”) is an enchanting little strophic song whose lovely rocking motion Lott nicely captures in an intimate performance. “Nach einem Gewitter” (“After a Thunderstorm”) is sung simply, straightforwardly, with great spontaneity. “Auf dem Wasser zu singen” (“To be Sung on the Water”), one of Schubert’s greatest songs, is sung with freshness but lacks the overarching sense of line that Schwarzkopf, for example, conveys.

Volume 20, CDJ33020, brings a new format to the Edition. Each of the previous volumes was the work of one singer. Here Johnson notes that Schubert and his circle of friends often collaborated in evenings of music-making in which a number of artists of different ages and backgrounds would come together to present a program of Schubert’s songs. Johnson notes:

It seems fitting that the Schubert Edition should mirror the diversity of age and experience among the present-day performers of Schubert’s songs by presenting a handful of programmes where a number of artists — for the most part friends and colleagues in real life — give new life to a format, the Schubertiad, sanctioned by the composer himself. Each of these discs will be devoted to the solo songs of a certain period, as if a large musical party was being given at the end of a year to take stock of its creative achievements.

These Schubertiads also include the composer’s complete output of part-songs with piano accompaniment as well as a capella songs. Volume 20, “An 1815 Schubertiad,” is the first of these. Recorded in 1993, it introduces the wonderful tenor voice of Ian Bostridge, who has since become one of our great lieder singers and includes the fine voices of John Mark Ainsley, Patricia Rozario, Michael George, Simon Keenlyside and others. The disc contains thirty-two brief songs and ensembles varying widely in mood from drinking songs to love songs, to a miner’s song, a burial song and many others. The famous “Heidenröslein” (“Wild Rose”) is the most familiar of the songs here. All of them are extremely well sung in a fascinating disc that rounds out the bits and pieces of Schubert’s production during his annus mirabilis, a year that produced about 150 songs, four operas, two symphonies, two masses, other liturgical music, a string quartet, as well as sonata movements and dances for piano — a miracle year, indeed!

Some highlights here include Bostridge’s fresh interpretations of such songs as “Als ich sie Erröten sah” (“When I Saw Her Blush”), in which he displays superb breath control and “Geist der Liebe” (“Spirit of Love”) where his rapt singing praises the spirit of love. John Mark Ainsley’s fine tenor graces “Das Mädchen von Inistore” (“The Maid of Inistore”), one of Schubert’s “Ossian” settings, as well as “Die erste Liebe” (“First Love”), a song of great intensity and “Huldigung” (“Homage”), a courtly love song to which Ainsley brings great elegance and freshness. Patricia Rozario’s pure soprano is heard to advantage in “Totenkranz für ein Kind” (“Wreath for a Dead Child”), a haunting song which she sings with gentle tenderness . She also brings an innocent simplicity to the great song “Heidenröslein” (“Wild Rose”). A voice to watch for is the fine young tenor Jamie MacDougall, who as part of the London Schubert Chorale provides support in several of the songs. This is an interesting addition to the Schubert series.

Volume 21, CDJ33021, brings the long experience and high art of Edith Mathis in a totally satisfying, utterly beguiling recital of Schubert songs from the years 1817-1818. Some of Schubert’s finest songs are here, gloriously interpreted with the great warmth and emotional involvement of one who is steeped in this literature. The unaffected simplicity of the opening “Schlaflied” (“Slumber Song”), the urgency of “Sehnsucht” (“Longing”),the deep seriousness of “Die Liebe” (“Love”), (one of the Schubert joys that deserves greater recognition), the freshness of “Die Forelle” (“The Trout”) (a performance to match the greatest of past interpretations), the quiet introspection of “Trost” (“Comfort”), the charm of “Das Lied vom Reifen” (“The Song of the Frost”) are all reflections of Mathis’ complete mastery of the idiom. And then comes Schubert’s great ode to music itself, “An die Musik,” in a performance of deep commitment and great simplicity, a loving performance, one of exaltation in the line “Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb entzunden” (“Have you kindled my heart to the warmth of love”). This is a rendition to match any of the great performances of the past. In all of these songs, Johnson’s line, his phrasing, his touch are impeccable and contribute much to the enjoyment of a truly magical recital. “Liebhaber in allen Gestalten” (“A Lover in all Guises”) is one of Schubert’s most delightful humorous songs set to an earthy poem of Goethe. Though it is meant to be sung by a man, most male singers (including Fischer-Dieskau in his enormous anthology of Schubert songs) have avoided it, possibly, Johnson observes, because they “are embarrassed by a whimsical coquetry in the turn of musical phrase which suggests femininity.” It has become a staple of the soprano repertory, with fine performances, for example, by Elisabeth Schumann and Irmgard Seefried. Mathis here is more than a match for any of them in a performance of sheer delight.

“Abschied von einem Freunde” (“Farewell to a Friend”) is the only one of Schubert’s songs set to his own words. It is a touching farewell to his close friend Franz von Schober, in whose home the composer had been living for eight months. Mathis sings it poignantly. “Erlafsee” (“Lake Erlaf”) begins with the lines “I am so happy and yet so sad/ By the calm waters of Lake Erlaf.” The song has a lovely Viennese lilt, which captures the sentimental mixture of sweetness and tears of Schlegel’s poem, and Mathis perfectly conveys its mixed emotions. The song deserves much greater recognition. “Lob der Tränen” (“In Praise of Tears”), sung with intensity, has some bewitching chromaticism in its piano part. “Evangelium Johannes” (“The Gospel According to St John”) is a strange song — it is Schubert’s only setting for voice and piano of a prose text. Its harmonic language suggests liturgical music of the past, but at the same time it anticipates Wagner’s setting of words. Vom Mitleiden Maria” (“Mary’s Suffering”) is an unusual song that also looks both backward to C.P.E. Bach in its use of linear three-part counterpoint and amazingly forward to Hugo Wolf’s “Nun Wandre, Maria” (“Now Wander, Mary”). This is a fascinating recital from start to finish, and one of the best of the Schubert Edition, both for Mathis’ complete command of the genre and Johnson’s absolute control and sympathetic partnership. The two artists perform as one throughout.

Volume 22, CDJ33022, entitled “An 1815 Schubertiad — II” brings a second selection of songs from the great year during which Schubert composed about 150 songs. The songs on this disc are sung by Lorna Anderson, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Jamie MacDougall and Simon Keenlyside, with the occasional assistance of Patricia Rozario, Catherine Denley, John Mark Ainsley and Michael George in the vocal trios and quartets.

There are lighthearted songs here, like “Morgenlied” (“Morning Song”), D. 266, charmingly sung by the pure, silvery soprano voice of Lorna Anderson. There are also rousing drinking songs like the opening “Trinklied,” the bracing “Skolie,” the rousing “Lob des Tokayers” (“In Praise of Tokay”) and “Punschlied,” an utterly delightful Schiller setting, sung here with enormous enthusiasm by a male quartet with fine piano postlude by Johnson. “Der Abend” (“The Evening”) is a fine strophic song whose quiet majesty is caught by Catherine Wyn-Rogers’ lovely mezzo. “An die Sonne” (“To the Sun”) is a greeting to the morning sun, graced by the purity of Lorna Anderson’s fresh voice.

Not all of the songs are among Schubert’s best. “Die Drei Sänger” (“The Three Minstrels”) is a long ballad which does not quite cohere. Its melodies are rather square and do not enchant, though it is well sung by Catherine Wyn-Rogers. A surprising anticipation of the famous “Die Forelle” (“The Trout”) occurs in the earlier “Die Erscheinung” (“The Apparition”), sung with fine freshness by Jamie MacDougall. Reed notes, “The tune, the rhythm and the harmony all remind us of the later masterpiece … .” “An Rosa” (“To Rosa”) in two successive settings by Schubert is pleasingly sung by MacDougall. The first setting is a slight one, the second more expressive in its mood of quiet devotion. “Das Bild” (“The Image”), also sung by MacDougall, is an enchanting, gently rocking song — it should be better known. “Furcht der Geliebten” (“The Beloved’s Fear”) is a lovely, intimate setting of a Klopstock poem, with an almost hymn-like seriousness. It is beguilingly sung by Simon Keenlyside. This one is a real gem. “Die Sterne” (“The Stars”), set to a Kosegarten poem, is another undiscovered Schubertian find. It is a modified strophic song of utter simplicity, otherworldliness and quiet devotion, almost hymnlike, and sweetly sung by MacDougall.

One of the most interesting songs here is “Gebet während der Schlacht” (“Prayer During Battle”). Johnson notes that, “There is nothing quite like this song in all Schubert, certainly from the pianist’s point of view … . A … tremolo in the right hand shivers and rumbles underneath the voice and provides almost an orchestral background to the noble tune — half prayer, half battle cry — of the vocal line.” The song’s form is unusual for Schubert — an arioso and short recitative followed by a strophic song. Keenlyside sings it beautifully, with power and passion, and Johnson rises magnificently to the challenge of a difficult piano part. The immediately following “Hermann und Thusnelda” (“Hermann and Thusnelda”) comes as an anticlimax. It is a somewhat jingoistic dialogue between the two protagonists, here very well sung by Lorna Anderson, whose pure, clear soprano voice deserves wider exposure and Simon Keenlyside, one of our finest baritones.

“Selma und Selmar” (“Selma and Selmar”) is another duet in which the singers’ voices follow each other in succession rather than join. It precedes “Hermann und Thusnelda” by a month, is structurally much less complex and shines with a simple radiance and loveliness which make it quite appealing. MacDougall and Anderson sing it with appealing directness. A real beauty, this little-known song “Lorma” (“Lorma”), one of Schubert’s “Ossian” songs, appears here in its first setting. (The second version was sung by Lucia Popp in Volume 17). The song concerns a tragic heroine who waits fruitlessly for the return of her lover. A piano introduction is followed by an arioso sung quietly and with conviction by Wyn-Rogers.

“Cronnan” is another “Ossian” setting. It is a revelation, one of the very finest of the “Ossian” settings and a major work. Its directness, depth of emotion and variety of mood raise it to the status of a masterpiece. It is an extended song containing a whole world of feeling, sung to perfection by Keenlyside and Anderson, his expressive baritone and her exquisite soprano making of this a priceless discovery. A Schiller setting “Hymne an den Unendlichen” (“Hymn to the Eternal”) is a fascinating vocal quartet with echoes of Beethoven and even Haydn. It is sung with conviction by Patricia Rozario, Catherine Denley, Jamie MacDougall and Michael George. The recital closes with Schubert’s second version of “Das Grab” (“The Grave”), set for male voices in block harmony. It is sung by John Mark Ainsley, Jamie MacDougall, Simon Keenlyside and Michael George. Obviously fascinated by its morbid depiction of death, Schubert attempted five successive choral settings of this poem.

With its enormous range of songs of such different moods and textures, this beautifully sung disc is one of the most interesting and rewarding in the Edition. Johnson’s extraordinary pianism adds much to its value, and his notes are, as always, richly informative. Pounce!

Volume 23, CDJ33023, is the second disc devoted to the Schubert songs of 1816 (the first was Volume 17). It features the fine lyric tenor Christoph Prégardien, one of today’s preeminent lieder interpreters, who has elsewhere recorded several highly praised discs of Schubert songs. Prégardien opens with a highly dramatic reading of the long narrative “Ossian” song “Der Tod Oscars” (“The Death of Oscar”). Prégardien’s careful attention and sensitivity to the meaning of each line animates his superb reading, vividly bringing the song to life. A brief chorus, “Das Grab” (“The Grave”) follows (sung by the London Schubert Chorale) as a commentary on the carnage with which “Der Tod Oscars” ended. “Der Entfernten” (“To the Distant Beloved”) has a rhythmic flexibility and spontaneity that Reed notes are characteristic of Schubert. Prégardien sings it with freshness and warmth. “Abschied von der Harfe” (“Farewell to the Harp”) brings extraordinary breath control and a wonderful legato line in Prégardien’s smooth, mellifluous treatment of a haunting song. Johnson’s harp-like accompaniment is played to

perfection. The famous “Der Jüngling an der Quelle” (“The Youth by the Spring”) is gorgeous — focused, sung with pure tone, absolutely hypnotic in its beauty. “Abendlied” (“Evening Song”) is an unpretentious, typically Schubertian song of lovely lyricism. Both Johnson in his accompanying notes and John Reed, in his The Schubert Song Companion treat the song somewhat dismissively. I disagree with their assessment, finding it a charming, fresh song, encapsulating some of the qualities we think of as typically Schubertian — simple lyricism and flowing accompaniment. “Stimme der Liebe” (“The Voice of Love”) is a short song, but an unusually fine one of great tonal variety and passion. It is excitingly sung by Prégardien. “Der Leidende” (“The Sufferer”), in both of Schubert’s two settings, the second darker in mood, is poignant and plaintive. The freshness and spontaneity of the following “Die Frühe Liebe” (“Early Love”) provide a welcome contrast. Prégardien sings it joyfully, with a delicious accompaniment by Johnson.

The three songs of the Harper from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister occupy a very different esthetic and emotional world from the cheerful Hölty settings that precede them — in fact, from most of Schubert’s 1816 song settings. They plumb the depths of human feeling in their searing intensity and pose a severe challenge to the artist brave enough to attempt them. In Prégardien, Johnson has found the perfect interpreter. Goethe’s blind Harper hovers on the edge of sanity, obsessed with the guilt of his incestuous relationship with his sister, which gave birth to his daughter, the waif Mignon. He is isolated, tormented, and his three songs give vent to his anguish. The songs are all in the same key, A Minor, a key that Schubert used to depict deprivation and alienation. In the first of these songs “Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt” (“He Who Gives Himself up to Solitude”), Prégardien’s impassioned outburst “Da läßt sie mich allein!” (“Then They Will Leave Me Alone”) in the last line of the song is shattering in its intensity. “Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass” (“Who has Never Eaten his Bread with Tears”) is an anguished, melancholy song — a mournful, heartfelt lament, heartrending in Prégardien’s deeply serious interpretation, particularly in his repetition of the second verse. The bleak, barren world of “An die Türen will ich schleichen” (“I Shall Steal From Door to Door”), the third of the Harper songs, is limned in a deliberately monochrome performance by Prégardien.

“Am ersten Maimorgen” (“On the First May Morning”) is the first of three settings of poems by Matthias Claudius that close the recital. It is a jolly, unpretentious song, heartily sung. “An dem Grabe meines Vater” (“At My Father’s Grave”) expresses its bereavement and compassion within the restraints of a classical, almost Beethovenish structure and is sincere rather than deeply moving. It is well sung, as are all the songs in this superb recital by one of today’s major song interpreters. Don’t miss it!

This remarkable Hyperion Schubert Lieder Edition reveals the composer’s protean versatility and Shakespearean range.The quality of the singing, Johnson’s playing, and the overarching conception, planning and organization which have brought this extraordinary Edition to fruition are unprecedented. The remaining discs will be reviewed in the next edition of La Folia.


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