The Hyperion Schubert Lieder Edition, Part Three
[April 2001. Originally appeared in La Folia 3:3.]
The thirty-seven volume Hyperion Schubert Lieder Edition, containing all of Schubert’s more than six hundred songs, is one of the great landmarks in the history of recording. Graham Johnson, creator of the project, serves as superb accompanist on all the discs and provides accompanying notes that are insightful, all-encompassing, voluminous, highly informative — and fascinating. The cream of vocal recitalists have been enlisted in this huge project. I reviewed the first twenty-three volumes of this extraordinary series in the last two issues of La Folia, and here I conclude with volumes 24 to 37.
Volume 24 on the theme of “Schubert and Goethe” is a major addition to the series. It introduces the exciting soprano Christine Schäfer, along with the fine tenor John Mark Ainsley, the excellent baritone Simon Keenlyside and bass Michael George. The mellifluous London Schubert Chorale performs two of the songs.
The disc opens with an intense, lyrical performance of “Schäfer’s Klagelied” (“Shepherd’s Lament“), one of Schubert’s great songs. Its form is fascinating — the music of verse 1 is the same as that of verse 6, that of verse 2 the same as verse 5, with verses 3 and 4 at the center containing new material. Ainsley beautifully captures the dramatic intensity of the references to rain, storm and tempest at the beginning of verse 4. Christine Schäfer follows with “An Mignon” (“To Mignon“). In his The Schubert Song Companion, John Reed observes that “Mignon is Goethe’s nearest approach to true tragedy. The unhappy waif, with her inheritance of sin and sorrow, seems to have a religious significance for him, as a symbol of the problem of evil.” Schubert’s setting captures a sense of emotional disturbance and subdued grief. Schäfer sings it movingly. She excels, too, in “Der Gott und die Bajadere” (“The God and the Dancing Girl“), the only song in the entire lieder repertory about prostitution, a long ballad in strophic form, where Schäfer’s fine legato, careful attention to word meanings and sensitive phrasing are notable. A dramatically charged performance of the great “Erlkönig” (“The Erl King“) in an arrangement for three voices brings Schäfer as the child, Ainsley as both the narrator and Erl King and Michael George as the father. This is hair-raising, with masterful piano accompaniment by Johnson. Schubert himself sanctioned this three-voice version and on one occasion even participated in a performance of it. (It is interesting to compare this performance with the exciting one by Sarah Walker in Volume 8 of the Edition.) Schäfer’s lovely singing graces Schubert’s second setting (of six) of “Sehnsucht” (“Longing“). She brings genuine passion to the words “Es schwindet mir, es brennt mein Eingeweide” (“I feel giddy, my vitals are aflame”) in a moving interpretation of this little-known song. Similarly, she brings Schubert’s third setting of this famous Goethe lyric to life. (His fourth version is set for five male voices and is sumptuously sung by the London Schubert Chorale.) Schäfer’s fresh, eager performance of the marvelous “Ganymed” puts her in the class of Seefried and Schwarzkopf — high praise indeed!
John Mark Ainsley’s passionate singing of the powerful “Rastlose Liebe” (“Restless Love“) is one of the disc’s highlights. He turns in fine, intense performances of two settings of the Harper’s Song “Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass” (“He Who has Never Eaten his Bread with Tears“). Simon Keenlyside is thrillingly dramatic in the great song “An Schwager Kronos” (“To Coachman Kronos“), superbly accompanied by Johnson. He is charming in “Tischlied” (“Drinking Song“) and “Der Rattenfänger” (“The Rat Catcher“). Michael George sings several of Schubert’s less well-known songs with conviction but sometimes displays an intrusive vibrato. Johnson’s playing throughout is masterful, and the sound is exemplary. This is a fine contribution to the Edition.
Volume 25 is one of the high points of the Edition — it brings the great song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin (The Maid of the Mill) in an outstanding performance by tenor Ian Bostridge with flawless accompaniment by Johnson. The cycle is less a narrative of successive events than a series of lyrical reflections, a succession of images — the narrative itself is implied rather than told explicitly. The young miller’s apprentice sets off, following a stream which eventually leads him to a mill where he gains employment and falls in love with the miller’s daughter. She, however, is in love with a huntsman and at the end the forlorn apprentice drowns himself in the stream.
Schubert did not set the poems of Die Schöne Müllerin in the exact form in which the poet Wilhelm Müller had written them. Müller’s prologue and epilogue convey an ironic detachment that did not suit Schubert’s conception, so he discarded these along with three of the poems, including, for example, one in which the young miller, gazing through a window, catches sight of the maid and the huntsman embracing. It would seem that Schubert preferred to avoid specific details concerning the young girl and thus to make of her more a figure of mystery. The prologue, epilogue and stanzas that Schubert did not set to music are read here in their proper order by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, an added bonus. Of course, they can be programmed out should one prefer to hear only the song cycle itself.
The songs of Die Schöne Müllerin often achieve a folksong-like quality, with the piano part repeatedly echoing the flowing rhythm of the mill stream. Bostridge’s emotional involvement in the meaning of the words, his unforced, simple directness and his spontaneity immediately get to the heart of the poems and the music. His phrasing would be hard to surpass. In “Wohin?” (“Where to?”), the second song, Bostridge crafts a quiet, smooth legato that is perfect for a song that many other singers capture with a bluff heartiness that can often become choppy. His warmth and deep sincerity contribute here to a treasurable performance. To each song he brings moments of insight that immediately illuminate as do few other interpretations. This is an intensely lived performance, unerringly projecting all of the young man’s moods as he sings of his doomed love. There is an intimacy here, a raw exposure of vulnerability and at the same time a sweetness that are captured with a musical intelligence that has made Bostridge one of our very finest lieder interpreters in so short a time. A great performance, then, one to rank with the very best and a high point of this Schubert Edition — don’t miss this one!
Volume 26, “An 1826 Schubertiad,” features Christine Schäfer, John Mark Ainsley and Richard Jackson along with the London Schubert Chorale conducted by Stephen Layton. The always imaginative piano accompaniments of Graham Johnson are a joy to hear. Schäfer’s wonderful singing is the highlight of the disc. She has rapidly become one of our top lieder singers and I look forward to her imminent debut in Berg’s Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, which I will eagerly attend.
Although Schäfer begins with a lovely, fresh-voiced performance of “Lied der Delphine” (“Delphine“), the heart of her contribution here is in the four Mignon songs that Schubert set to Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. In the first of these, “Mignon und der Harfner” (“Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt“) — “Mignon and the Harper” (“Only He who Knows Longing“), she and John Mark Ainsley join as Mignon and the Harper in the finest of Schubert’s six settings of the poem. His writing here captures every nuance of the words, and both Schäfer and Ainsley perfectly adumbrate in turn both the “dreamy longing” and the “passionate expression” that Goethe refers to, along with the loneliness and alienation of the song. Schäfer then excels in an intense, lyrical exquisitely sung performance of the second of the Mignon settings, “Heiss mich nicht reden” (“Do not Bid Me Speak “). She is capable of the quietest lyricism as well as powerful operatic grandeur — a major artist with a great future!
In the third and fourth of these songs, “So lasst mich scheinen” (“Thus Let Me Seem“) and “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt” (“Only He who Knows Longing“) — now set as a solo song — Schäfer perfectly mirrors the innocence and pathos of Mignon. She is charming in the lighthearted “Das Echo” (“The Echo“), an attractive, playful strophic song that makes delightful use of echo effects. And then she is exquisite in the serenade “Horch, horch! Die Lerch” (“Hark, Hark! the Lark“) derived from Act II, Scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, one of Schubert’s most charming songs, inimitably sung. She excels, too, in “Wiegenlied” (“Lullaby“) to a poem of Seidl.
John Mark Ainsley’s fine tenor is heard to great advantage in a fresh-voiced, lyrical, perfectly phrased performance of “An Silvia” (“Who is Sylvia?“) with matchless accompaniment by Johnson — this is a real gem on this fine disc. Together with the wonderful London Schubert Chorale, Ainsley gives a warm, committed performance of the great choral song “Nachthelle” (“Night Brightness“), where his technical mastery of the very high-lying tenor line (called “damnably high” by one of Schubert’s friends) is a joy to hear. The Chorale excels, too, in the amazing unaccompanied “Grab und Mond” (“Grave and Moon“), a chilling, occasionally sinister and implacable invocation to the moon.
Richard Jackson, however, leaves much to be desired. In his singing of “Der Wanderer an den Mond” (“The Wanderer’s Address to the Moon“), “Der Sängers Habe” (“The Minstrel’s Possessions“), “Totengräberweise” (“Gravedigger’s Song“) and other songs, despite a fine musical intelligence, the rough voice and lack of vocal control spoil the listening experience — this is one of the few disappointments in this otherwise fine series. Nevertheless, this is an utterly fascinating disc and one more fine contribution to the Edition.
“Schubert and the Schlegels: The Dawning of Romanticism” is the theme of Volume 27, presenting the baritone Matthias Görne and Christine Schäfer (who sings four of the songs), again with Johnson’s fine accompaniments. The songs here are set to poems of the brothers August and Friedrich Schlegel. August was responsible for the extraordinarily fine translations of the Shakespeare plays into German. The disc opens with six settings of his poems. The opening “Lob der Tränen” (“In Praise of Tears“) begins with an exquisitely chromatic piano introduction and beautifully captures the poem’s mixture of sweetness and sadness. Görne’s fine legato and soft-grained voice are lovely to listen to here. In the second of these August Schlegel settings, “Lebensmelodien” (“Melodies of Life“) the swan and the eagle engage in a dialogue observed by the dove. Each creature sings his own distinctive music, the swan’s unruffled elegance quite Mozartean, the craggy eagle’s music suggesting the power of Beethoven, while the dove, who is the observer here, sings in Schubert’s own voice. Schubert’s masterful ability to set words manifests itself even in such a simple song. Görne is, in turn, appropriately lyrical or urgent here. “Sprache der Liebe” (“The Language of Love“) is a short song that begins as a flowing serenade but becomes increasingly passionate. Görne is suitably suave and persuasive.
It is amazing that a song as utterly beguiling as “Wiedersehen” (“Reunion“) is so little known. Görne provides the seamless legato the song demands. Three sonnets translated from the Italian of Petrarch follow, with the second of these, a miniature Winterreise, probably the best. Schubert set eleven songs taken from Friedrich von Schlegel’s cycle of poems Abendröte (Sunset). These were set separately by Schubert but are grouped together here and given the unity of a cycle. The first of the songs, itself entitled “Abendröte,” deals with the “repetitive rhythm and melody of life pulsating imperceptibly behind the activities of beast and man.” The piano part has a suitable quasi-contrapuntal texture. The song is by no means a typical Schubert lied and deserves greater exposure. “Die Vögel” (“The Birds“) is one of Schubert’s most well-known songs and a delightful one, and Görne sings it artlessly. The fine “Der Fluss” (“The River“) with its long-lined Italian cantilena and Schubertian water imagery deserves to be much better known and is sung by Christine Schäfer with a lovely legato — a real charmer, this one. “Der Knabe” (“The Boy“) is a jolly song of innocent high spirits, smoothly sung by Görne, while “Die Rose” (“The Rose“) makes the fading of the rose a metaphor for a woman’s loss of virginity. Schäfer’s pure, bright voice is quite touching here. “Der Schmetterling” (“The Butterfly“) is one of Schubert’s most familiar songs. There have been more charming interpretations of this song than Görne’s. While his mellifluous baritone is wonderful to hear, his lack of detailed word painting leads to a certain monotony and a sameness of tone throughout.
Schäfer’s innigkeit in “Das Mädchen” (“The Maiden“) is genuinely touching. Her perfectly phrased interpretation, along with Johnson’s sensitive accompaniment, is a highlight of the disc. Görne is at his best here in “Die Sterne” (“The Stars“) where his extraordinary breath control sustains the incredibly long line and the consistency of his voice and accuracy of his placement throughout its range ideally capture the calm beauty of a wonderful, visionary song. Despite some reservations, then, about Görne’s interpretations, his voice is a beautiful one and offers a welcome contribution to the Schubert Edition. Schäfer, as always, is a treat to listen to. Johnson’s fine pianism continues to please, and his accompanying notes are again incredibly exhaustive.
Volume 28, “An 1822 Schubertiad,” presents the ever-reliable John Mark Ainsley and introduces the Dutch baritone Maarten Koningsberger, with contributions from Christine Schäfer, Simon Keenlyside, Ian Bostridge, Michael George, Paul Agnew, Jamie MacDougall, Patricia Rozario and Catherine Denley, all of whom have appeared in earlier volumes. Graham Johnson, as always, provides impeccable piano accompaniments. There are both solo songs and songs for vocal ensemble. The London Schubert Chorale participates in several of the latter. Many of the songs here are rarely performed, such as the opening “Versunken” (“Rapt Absorption“), bursting with energy as sung by John Mark Ainsley. He and the London Schubert Chorale are delightful in the following “Im gegenwärtigen Vergangenes” (“The Past in the Present“), also a rarity. Both of these are set to Goethe poems. Ainsley sings a sweet-voiced “Geheimes” (“A Secret“), one of the most well-known of the Goethe settings, but this has been more idiomatically, more charmingly performed elsewhere. The first version of Goethe’s Mignon song “Heiss mich nicht reden” (“Do not Bid Me Speak“) is a remarkable song that has been sadly overshadowed by Schubert’s later setting of the same poem. (The latter version was sung by Schäfer in Volume 26 of the Edition). Schäfer is heart-wrenching here, particularly in the final strophe. Later she sings the wonderful “Der Musensohn” (“The Son of the Muses“), one of Schubert’s greatest, most captivating Goethe settings. Her bright voice somehow misses here the warmth and charm that emanate from other performances I have heard.
“Die Nachtigall” (“The Nightingale“), sung by Paul Agnew with male quartet, is utterly bewitching. Maarten Koningsberger’s performance of the wonderful “Sei mir gegrüsst!” (“I Greet You“) to a poem of Rückert is too slow and lacks the intimate charm that Fischer-Dieskau and others bring to this great song. Koningsberger sounds a bit unseasoned here. “Frühlingsgesang” (“Spring Song“) is trippingly and delightfully tossed off by the male quartet consisting of Agnew, MacDougall, Keenlyside and George. The same quartet perform the magical “Geist der Liebe” (“Spirit of Love“). Schubert had arranged this quartet as a solo song; which appears in Volume 23. “Die Liebe hat gelogen” (“Love has Lied“) is a miniature masterpiece whose emotional intensity does not appear again in Schubert until Winterreise. Koningsberger’s fine baritone and sense of legato are praiseworthy, but in this song and the following “Du liebst mich nicht” (“You do not Love Me“) he just does not capture the intensity and desperation of the singer, and the performances remain bland where they should be overwhelming. He is more at home in the extroverted “Selige Welt” (“Blessed World“), in the quiet “Ihr Grab” (“Her Grave“) and “An die Entfernte” (“To the Distant Beloved“), where his mellifluous line is lovely.
John Mark Ainsley returns in the penultimate song on the disc “Willkommen und Abschied” (“Hail and Farewell“) set to a Goethe poem. This is a powerful, almost operatic peroration that, like so many of the undiscovered gems in this series, deserves much wider exposure. Ainsley powerfully captures the song’s intense drama in a really fine performance, though he occasionally mispronounces the German. The disc closes with the fine vocal quartet “Des Tages Weihe” (“The Day’s Consecration“) which opens with a lyrical solo for the bass, after which the quartet takes over. It is an occasional piece, one of the few for which Schubert was commissioned and paid , but this miniature cantata has its charms. Johnson’s playing throughout is exemplary, and his notes are again encyclopedic and generous.
Volume 29, whose theme is “Schubert in 1819 and 1820” features the luscious mezzo of Marjana Lipov_ek, with one piece, the nineteen minute long “Einsamkeit” (“Solitude“) performed by the bass-baritone Nathan Berg. Set to a poem by Mayrhofer, it is a sort of verse treatment of the theme of “the seven ages of man.” It is unlike anything Schubert had yet written and was probably inspired by Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved) written two years earlier. The Beethoven work was really the first successful song cycle, consisting of six songs linked to form a continuous work. “Einsamkeit” is also divided into six sections. It is a grand, somewhat free work, not as immediately appealing as some of Schubert’s other songs, sometimes a bit boring, but certainly worth hearing in Nathan Berg’s performance.
Nevertheless, this is a fascinating disc, dealing with what was a somewhat exploratory period for Schubert. It opens with the florid “Abendbilder” (“Nocturne“), a song on a grand scale that seems to anticipate “Der Lindenbaum” (“The Linden Tree“) of Winterreise. It ranges over many magical moods, all beautifully captured by Lipov_ek’s rich, warm mezzo. “Himmelsfunken” (“Intimations of Heaven“) is an amazing song, metaphysical in mood, full of subtly shifting harmonies in its piano part. Lipov_ek is hypnotic here, bringing real imagination and spirituality to a searching interpretation. This song, like so many other lesser known songs on this disc, repays repeated listening. In “Hoffnung” (“Hope“) she and Johnson find the perfect pace and bring a warm grace and tenderness to a lovely song.
Five settings of the metaphysical poet Novalis, Hymnes I-IV and “Nachthymne“(Hymns I-IV and “Hymn to the Night“), follow. Lipov_ek is magnificent in these, powerful of voice, richly dramatic where called for, completely involved in the emotions of these extraordinary poems, intense in her conviction — and what a voice! The last of these, “Nachthymne” is one of Schubert’s masterpieces, sadly unknown. Its combination of the spiritual with the erotic is astonishing. Lipov_ek’s passionately involved performance could not easily be bettered. “Blondel zu Marien” (“Blondel to Mary“), “Trost” (“Consolation“) and “Die Liebende schreibt” (“Letter from a Girl in Love“) are sung with great charm and expressiveness, as are “Morgenlied” (“Morning Song“) and “Frühlingsglaube” (“Faith in Spring“). This last well-known song, taken just slightly slower than some other performances, is a marvelous expression of the renewal of human hope. It is sung with warm conviction in a performance that captures every nuance of feeling. Lipov_ek is magnificent in “Im Walde” (“In the Forest“), the finest of Schubert’s Schlegel settings and a truly great song of operatic grandeur, almost Wagnerian in its scope. Johnson unleashes a torrent of energy in his moto perpetuo accompaniment, and Lipov_ek rides over it with passionate involvement — the two of them sweep all before them. In her lower register, Lipov_ek takes on an exciting contralto richness. In short, this is one of the finest discs in the Edition, both for the inclusion of some of Schubert’s best songs and for the superb singing of Lipov_ek, and the matchless playing of Johnson. Once again, the notes are a revelation. Don’t miss this one!
Volume 30 brings us the song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey), one of the masterpieces of the vocal literature, in an excellent performance by baritone Matthias Goerne, who has rapidly become one of our finest lieder interpreters. Its almost unrelenting melancholy and sparse textures are very different from the earlier cycle Die Schöne Müllerin. Though both cycles share a common preoccupation with death, and the earlier cycle leads the miller towards the peace of death, Winterreise seeks death in vain only to end instead in madness. Both cycles are essentially tales of female inconstancy told by a male, but in the earlier cycle the romantic betrayal occurs halfway through the cycle, while in Winterreise it has already occurred before the beginning of the cycle. There is consequently less here of a traditional linear narrative and more of a psychological journey, in which the physical journey through a winter landscape becomes a metaphor for the mental progression through memory, dream, fantasy and, finally, madness.
Schubert, who always achieves miracles by the alternation of major and minor modes puts this contrast to brilliant effect in Winterreise. The conventional use of the major to signify happiness and the minor to portray sadness would make these twenty-four gloomy songs an unbearably dour experience. Instead, Schubert achieves wonders of expression by a brilliant stroke — he reserves the major mode for the imaginary, the purely mental world of fantasy, illusion, reminiscence and dream, and the minor mode for reality, the world of things and places. In the very first song “Gute Nacht” (“Good Night“), for example, the traveler, who is leaving town, sings his sad goodbyes to a melody in D minor. The major appears first when he reminisces about the happy beginnings of his love affair. Again, after three strophes sung in the minor, the sudden shift to D major for the fourth, final verse is stunning. But here the traveler, departing in the night, sings that he will not disturb his loved one as she lies dreaming, thus indicating that her blissful dreams are part of a privileged realm.
Goerne sings with a velvety, rich, warm voice whose smooth flow is gorgeous. The pacing of this first song, which too often can become leaden if it is slowed down, is perfect. His shaping of the line bears the song along with a sense of inevitability. There is real magnetism here, an intensity of feeling and a wonderful sense of the long legato line of the music. In “Die Wetterfahne” (“The Weather Vane“), Goerne’s careful shaping of the words achieves high drama, with the powerful piano of Johnson an equal partner. Goerne dramatically captures the broad sweep and energy, the urgency of “Erstarrung” (“Numbness). In “Auf dem Flusse” (“On the River“), his almost whispered “Wie still bist du geworden” (“How still you have become”) is magical. The contrast between the smooth legato of the vocal line and the staccato quavers in the piano, stunningly played by Johnson, is wonderful to hear. Goerne reaches the heights of dramatic power in his ensuing reference to raging river and tormented heart. The final bars on the piano chillingly return us to cold reality as the traveler must move on.
“Frühlingstraum” (“Dream of Spring“) contrasts dreaming with waking, and Goerne exquisitely spins out the long, slow line describing his dream of love, then explodes with passion as he awakens. In quiet, contemplative songs, Goerne achieves an extrordinary inwardness as he does in the third verse here. “Die Post” (“The Post“) is sung with refreshing simplicity. In “Der Krähe” (“The Crow“) in which the poet’s preoccupation is no longer with his beloved who has rejected him, but rather with death. Goerne subtly captures the sense of derangement that has begun to possess the traveler. In “Im Dorfe” (“In the Village“) he makes us very much aware that he is an outsider as he contemplates the townspeople sleeping in their beds. He is uncannily effective here. Schubert’s contrast of major and minor keys is fascinating, where in “Im Dorfe” the sleeping villagers are portrayed in D major, while in the following “Der stürmische Morgen” (“The Stormy Morning“) the reality of the newly-breaking day is grimly portrayed in D minor. Goerne is marvelous in communicating courage founded only on desperation. He sings movingly in “Der Wegweiser” (“The Signpost“) that he must travel a road from which no man has ever returned. The numbing introversion of “Das Wirtshaus” (“The Inn“) and “Die Nebensonnen” (“The Mock Suns“), taken at a heart-stoppingly slow pace, brings extraordinary breath control and an amazingly sustained legato line.
The great final song “Der Leiermann” (“The Hurdy-Gurdy Player“) is bare and haunting, one of Schubert’s greatest creations. Goerne almost stops time in its tracks in his portrayal of the traveler’s descent into madness. He is superb here. Johnson’s playing throughout is a revelation — some of the finest work he has done in this series. His accompanying text constitutes a weighty tome on Winterreise — more than one hundred pages of great illumination. This is a major contribution to the Schubert Lieder Edition.
The theme of Volume 31 is “Franz Schubert and Religion.” The disc features the soprano Christine Brewer, the Holst Singers and again, of course, Graham Johnson’s fine piano accompaniments. As we approach the end of the series, we begin to be involved in a “mopping up” operation, picking up the last little bits and pieces of Schubertiana. Consequently, some of the works included here are of lesser inspiration. Furthermore, Brewer’s musicianly singing and immersion in the spirit of the music she sings are offset by an unpleasant shrillness that creeps into the higher reaches of her voice and makes for unpleasant listening. The disc then will be of interest primarily to anyone wanting to collect the complete Edition.
Some of the songs are among Schubert’s masterpieces: “Dem Unendlichen” (“To the Infinite One“), powerfully sung by Brewer, “Himmelsfunken” (“Intimations of Heaven“), a beautiful, quiet, intimate, hymn-like setting which Brewer sympathetically spins out, and “Im Abendrot” (“In the Glow of Evening“). Others, however, including “Hagars Klage” (“Hagar’s Lament“), a sixteen minute long song dealing with the biblical story of the bondwoman Hagar and Abraham’s son Ishmael, as well as “Des Mädchens Klage” (“The Maiden’s Lament“), both of these among Schubert’s earliest essays in song form, are lesser inspirations. The latter soars stratospherically into high G’s and A’s, which would stress any soprano and which undoubtedly result in rare performances of this song. Some, like “Die Gestirne” (“The Constellations“), soaringly sung by Brewer, deserve much greater recognition. Settings of three psalms from the Old Testament — the thirteenth, twenty-third and ninety-second — add interest, the first of these sung by Brewer and the second by :Patricia Rozario, Lorna Anderson, Catherine Denley and Catherine Wyn-Rogers. The third, surprisingly set in Hebrew, is sung by Paul Robinson, baritone, and chorus, and is unaccompanied.
The disc closes with the eighteen minute long “Mirjams Siegesgesang” (“Miriam’s Song of Victory“) sung by Brewer with chorus. This is not one of Schubert’s greatest inspirations — the high tessitura occasionally stresses Brewer’s top notes, but the chorus sings superbly, generating genuine excitement. Johnson’s playing is a joy to hear, and his written text notes are again informative and voluminous. The sound, as in almost all of the discs in this series, is exemplary. An interesting disc, then, but not one of the finest in the series.
Volume 32 brings us “An 1816 Schubertiad” sung by sopranos Lynne Dawson and Christine Schäfer, mezzo-soprano Ann Murray, tenors John Mark Ainsley, Daniel Norman, Christoph Prégardien, Michael Schade and Toby Spence, baritones Christopher Maltman and Stephen Varcoe, with the London Schubert Chorale under Stephen Layton. Further contributions are made by soprano Patricia Rozario, mezzo-soprano Catherine Wyn-Rogers, tenors Paul Agnew, Jamie MacDougall and Philip Langridge, baritones Simon Keenlyside, Maarten Koningsberger and Stephan Loges and basses Neal Davies and Michael George, most of whom have already participated in the Edition. Graham Johnson again provides accompaniments along with superbly informative notes. This delightful disc is a mixture of solo songs and partsongs.
The opening partsong “Der Geistertanz” (“Ghost Dance“) is a danse macabre sung heartily by the London Schubert Chorale. Then Lynne Dawson sings Schubert’s third setting of “Des Mädchens Klage” (“The Maiden’s Lament“), one of his least-known songs for the female voice. Its style differs markedly from that of most Schubert songs. Dawson is passionate here, but her voice is occasionally not under complete control. A rare duet, “Licht und Liebe (Nachtgesang)” (“Light and Love“) is sung by Dawson and Michael Schade, she in fine control here, his pleasant tenor complementing her warm tones. Schubert’s contribution to an anniversary celebration of his teacher Salieri is an occasional piece, delightfully sung, but not with much staying power, as is the case with “Zum Punsche” (“In Praise of Punch“). “Naturgenuss” (“Delight in Nature“) is a quartet for male voices marvelously well sung.
The ballad-like “Ritter Toggenburg” (“The Knight of Toggenburg”) is closely modeled on Zumsteeg’s earlier setting of the same Schiller text. It is sympathetically sung by Christoph Prégardien, one of our finest Schubert interpreters, who brings high drama as well as soaring lyricism to this unknown gem. One of the joys of the Edition is the resuscitation of Schubert song fragments, usually completed by Reinhard van Hoorickx. One of the loveliest of these is the plaintive “Didone abbandonata” (“Dido Abandoned“), an operatic scena set to a text of Metastasio and powerfully, hauntingly sung by Ann Murray. This is a real discovery. Another of these song fragments is the charming “Das war ich” (“That was I“) sung by the light tenor voice of Daniel Norman.
Christine Schäfer triumphs in the technically challenging “Die Verfehlte Stunde” (“The Unsuccessful Hour“), a song of unfulfilled sexual longing and one of Schubert’s most demanding songs for the female voice. The high tessitura, long phrases leaving little time for snatching a breath are masterfully handled by this fine soprano. “Der Wanderer” (“The Wanderer“) provides Schubert with the prototype of the alienated man, a stranger to life, who became the central figure of many of Schubert’s late songs and of his song cycles. Baritone Christopher Maltman gives it a sympathetic performance, though an intrusive vibrato occasionally manifests itself. Stephen Varcoe brings his fine baritone to “Zufriedenheit” (“Contentment“). Toby Spence’s ringing, vibrant tenor brightens “Entzückung” (“Rapture“), a song which Johnson notes “is almost Wagnerian in its sweep and scope.” There are real discoveries here.
Some of the partsongs here are wonderful, like “Der Entfernten” (“To the Distant Beloved“), an affectionate, erotic song of longing written in the unusual key of C sharp major, beautifully caressed by the London Schubert Chorale. “Das grosse Halleluja” (“The Great Hallelujah“) brings grand sweep and vigor to a somewhat Mozartean endeavor. The ensemble singing on this disc is a special joy and could not be better. It is marvelously captured in a fine recording. Johnson’s sensitive, perceptive accompaniments and extraordinarily encyclopedic notes again enhance a fascinating disc.
Volume 33 entitled “The Young Schubert, 1810-1814” contains Schubert’s very earliest songs, some of them existing as fragments completed by Reinhard Van Hoorickx. They are worth a listen, though they are mostly of interest only to the Schubert specialist or to anyone interested in collecting the entire Schubert Edition.
Stephen Varcoe opens the disc with “Lebenstraum” (“A Dream of Life“), an extended cantata which is probably Schubert’s very first song, written at the age of thirteen or even younger. The degree of response to words and verbal imagery already foreshadows the greater Schubert to come. He then sings a slightly later version of “Lebenstraum” and “Totengräberlied” (“Gravedigger’s Song“), a song of charm and freshness as well as the Metastasio setting “Pensa, che questo istante” (“Consider that this Moment“), whose Italian mood and style belie its Schubertian origin. The youthful Schubert here already follows Mozart in being at home equally in the German and Italian idioms. Varcoe sings all of these with charm and commitment.
Ann Murray is somewhat tremulous in two arrangements for voice and piano by Schubert of the Gluck arias “Rien de la nature” (“Nothing in all Nature“) and “O combats, o désordre extrême!” (“What Conflict, What Extreme Confusion!“). She follows these with seven settings of Metastasio texts, some of them composition exercises of the young Schubert. Of these, “Misero pargoletto” (“Unhappy Child“) is amazingly reminiscent of Pamina’s great aria “Ach ich fühl’s” from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. (The opening of Schubert’s song follows the opening theme of the Mozart aria.) Schubert heard the opera in 1812 and was obviously enormously impressed by it. Murray’s performance is exquisitely sung with fine musicianship, but is somewhat cool and remote. She is urgent in the fine Metastasio setting “Son fra l’onde” (“I am Among the Waves“), a taut, dramatic song from 1813. Both of these early efforts deserve much greater recognition. Another of the Metastasio settings, “L’incanto degli occhi” (“The Magic of Eyes“) is a full-fledged aria in the Italian style, which Schubert obviously mastered at a relatively early stage. Murray’s technical command is fine, but she lacks charm and warmth here.
Marie McLaughlin is rich and resonant in the early “Klaglied” (“Lament“), a fine song that also deserves wider exposure. Its long line and ability to successfully capture the plaint of a woman are remarkable for such a young composer. Philip Langridge is expressive in the lovely, languid “Erinnerungen” (“Memories“), while Catherine Wyn-Rogers is warm and velvety, her voice rock-steady in the stately “Die Nacht” (“Night“), a strophic song that is the most recently discovered Schubert lied (first published in 1990!) and in “Ammenlied” (“The Nurse’s Song“), folksong-like and tinged with sadness. Again, Johnson’s playing and accompanying text add much pleasure. An interesting disc.
Volume 34, “Schubert, 1817-1821,” brings a bevy of singers who have appeared earlier in the series. Sopranos Lorna Anderson, Lynne Dawson and Patricia Rozario, mezzo-sopranos Marjana Lipov_ek and Catherine Denley, tenors Martyn Hill, Philip Langridge, Daniel Norman, Michael Schade, John Mark Ainsley, Ian Bostridge and Jamie MacDougall, baritones Gerald Finley, Matthias Goerne (or Görne), Thomas Hampson, Simon Keenlyside, Stephan Loges and Christopher Maltman and basses Neal Davies, who is new to the Edition, and Michael George contribute singly or in ensemble. The London Schubert Chorale led by Stephen Layton perform one number, “Das Grab” (“The Grave“). The disc opens and closes with Christopher Maltman, first in the hearty “Der Alpenjäger” (“The Alpine Huntsman“), later in “Wandrers Nachtlied II” (“Wayfarer’s Night Song II“), one of Schubert’s greatest Goethe settings. The young Maltman proves his worth as an upcoming lieder singer of stature in an exquisite, poignant performance of deep conviction. Marjana Lipov_ek provides the only solo song for woman’s voice in the Schlegel “Das Mädchen” (“The Maiden“). As in her earlier disc in the series, Lipov_ek’s warm, rich well-focused mezzo is haunting here. A real gem, this.
Thomas Hampson’s fine, committed, deeply felt performance resuscitates “Atys” (“Attis“), a song that deserves greater exposure. Philip Langridge is fetching in “Die Einsiedelei” (“The Hermitage“), a song expressing optimism about the possibility of finding harmony in nature. The bass-baritone Neal Davies makes a promising entry into the series with three considered performances — first “Der Kampf” (“The Battle“), an operatic scena with wide vocal leaps and agitated rhythm, dealing with the conflict between love and duty, then “Das Abendrot” (“Sunset“) with all the power and flexibility the song calls for and also “Grenzen der Menschheit” (“Man’s Limitations“) dealing with man’s insignificance when faced with the power of the gods, a song of grandeur and sublimity, for which Davies promisingly displays the range and majesty needed. Martyn Hill is somewhat unsteady and sometimes croons in “Abend” (“Evening“). Simon Keenlyside brings power, intensity and firm vocal control to “Prometheus,” a Goethe setting of Wagnerian power and grandeur, in which Schubert already probes the dramatic limits of the lied. David Norman sings sweetly but without much body in “Über allen Zauber Liebe” (“Love above all Magic“), a lovely, lyrical, enchanting song. Matthias Goerne’s mellow baritone brings fine phrasing and control to “Die gefangenen Sänger” (“The Captive Singers“), a song that succeeds in the difficult task of setting a philosophical poem in purely musical terms.
Along with these solo songs, the disc contains several less substantial ensemble pieces, charmingly performed by various combinations of the singers. Johnson’s pianism and accompanying text are again noteworthy.
The theme of Volume 35 is “Schubert, 1822-1825” and the disc features sopranos Lynne Dawson and Geraldine McGreevy, tenor Philip Langridge, baritones Thomas Hampson, Maarten Koningsberger and Christopher Maltman and bass Neal Davies, with the assistance of Patricia Rozario, Lorna Anderson, Catherine Denley, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, John Mark Ainsley, Ian Bostridge, Jamie MacDougall, Daniel Norman, Toby Spence, Simon Keenlyside, Stephan Loges, Michael George and the London Schubert Chorale under Stephen Layton, the latter group joining in various combinations in the partsongs.
Some of Schubert’s masterpieces are here, beginning with “Dass sie hier gewesen!” (“That She has Been Here“), a song of remarkable economy and refinement, which, surprisingly, does not reveal the tonic until the thirteenth bar. Philip Langridge sings it with great sensitivity and encapsulates its sexual longing in a plangent performance. The contrast in mood with the immediately following “Lachen und weinen” (“Laughter and Tears“) is a dramatic one. Geraldine McGreevy’s pure, bright soprano expressively captures the song’s great charm — I miss only the smile in the voice that an Elisabeth Schumann, for example, could bring to a song like this. The great “Du bist die Ruh” (“You are Repose“), a song that is outwardly simple but deeply profound is sung to perfection by Lynne Dawson, her soaring top notes flawless.
As Johnson notes, “Totengräbers Heimwehe” (“Gravedigger’s Homesickness“) is one of the mightiest of all the Schubert songs, dealing with the gravedigger who longs for his own death. Christopher Maltman brings the stentorian power and drama the song requires and Johnson’s accompaniment here is masterful. “Der Sieg” (“The Victory“), a fine Mayrhofer setting in which the poet commits suicide, longing for the world beyond, is particularly prophetic in view of Mayrhofer’s later suicide. Schubert’s solemn hymn matches the moving eloquence of the poem, and it is aptly sung by Neal Davies, whose firm tone excels in the little-known Rückert setting. “Greisengesang” (“Song of Old Age“). “Lied des Gefangenen Jägers” (“Song of the Imprisoned Hunstman“), a ballad set to a Sir Walter Scott text from The Lady in the Lake, is a really fine song that like so many of Schubert’s treasure trove remains essentially unknown. Thomas Hampson gives it a stirring, richly sung performance. Lynne Dawson is accomplished and lovely of voice in “Pilgerweise” (“Pilgrim’s Song“), but the song is overlong and does not sustain interest. Several ensemble numbers round out the disc, and though they are well sung, they are lesser numbers. Johnson’s sensitive pianism and informative texts are again a strong point.
The end is in sight! Volume 36, devoted to “An 1827 Schubertiad” features Juliane Banse, Michael Schade and Gerald Finley, with Lynne Dawson participating in one song and tenors Tom Raskin and Ashley Catling, baritone Paul Robinson, bass Charles Gibbs and the Holst Singers directed by Stephen Layton in the final occasional piece in which Eugene Asti joins Graham Johnson for the piano duet.
This one is certainly a “mopping up” operation — many of the songs are not top drawer Schubert, but if the songs are not top quality, most of the singing is. The fine baritone Gerald Finley (who first appeared in Volume 34) performs eight of the solo songs here, and his resonant, beautifully shaded, intelligently used voice immediately makes him one of the finest contributors to the series. Three well-sung but not major songs, include “Schiffers Scheidelied” (“The Sailor’s Song of Farewell“), a song bursting with energy and audacious in its large scale, with a fiendishly difficult virtuoso piano accompaniment, which Johnson handles gloriously. Finley triumphs in this song with its highly challenging vocal line. He then launches into three Italian arias that Schubert wrote for the celebrated Italian bass Luigi Lablache. Their Italian mellifluousness gives them interest — they are a real discovery, and they are superbly sung with rich voice and complete understanding of their varying moods. Finley excels, too, in a powerfully sung performance of the drinking song “Der Wallensteiner Lanzknecht beim Trunk” (“Wallenstein’s Infantryman Drinking“) — not major Schubert, but what singing! In “Der Kreuzzug” (“The Crusade“), a devotional meditation, Finley’s flawless technique, honeyed tones and fine intelligence deeply illuminate a song much worth hearing.
Juliane Banse’s clear soprano now makes its mark in the series. Her fine appearance in the Hyperion Schumann Song Edition, previously reviewed here, raised high expectations, and they are certainly fulfilled here. She sings five solo songs, beginning with the little-known “Frühlingslied” (“Spring Song“), in which she superbly projects her inner passion — this is great Schubert singing! The gentle, rocking gait of “Wolke und Quelle” (“The Cloud and the Stream“) inspires Banse to warm, idiomatic singing. In “Das Weinen” (“Weeping“) she is exquisite without being self-conscious, perfectly capturing the yearning sensuality of the music, while in “Heimliches lieben” (“Secret Love“) her pure tones and long legato line are lovely. She is similarly fine in one of Schubert’s really great songs, “Die Sterne” (“The Stars“), though a slightly more extroverted touch here might be in order.
Tenor Michael Schade sings two high-lying solo songs completed by Reinhard Van Hoorickx from sketches of Schubert. Schade’s voice is not a beautiful one — it is a bit white, and he tends to push. He then joins Lynne Dawson and Gerald Finley in “Der Hochzeitsbraten” (“The Wedding Roast“), a quite delicious eleven minute lagniappe, sounding like a Mozart mini-singspiel. It concerns a flirtatious woman, her fiancé and a man in a position of authority. The sexual innuendo in this triangle is delightfully handled, the music enormously charming, the three singers in fine form. Dawson is particularly bewitching — she even tosses off a yodel! It is unlike anything else in the Schubert oeuvre, and a real joy. The disc closes with an occasional piece for vocal quartet, chorus and piano duet.
There is top-notch singing on this disc, even if the music is not always outstanding Schubert. Johnson’s contribution is again invaluable.
Finally, we arrive at the last volume of this extraordinary project, and a fine one it is! The theme of this volume 37 is “Schubert — the Final Year,” and three tenors — John Mark Ainsley, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Michael Schade lend their considerable talents. The disc opens with five songs from Schubert’s last year, 1828, followed by the pièce de résistance, his “cycle” Schwanengesang (Swan Song).
The first entry is “Auf der Strom” (“On the River“), sung with lyrical intensity by Michael Schade, in better voice than in the previous volume. David Pyatt provides a fine French horn accompaniment to Graham Johnson’s usual knowledgeable piano support. “Herbst” (“Autumn“), though a mature song of real intensity, surprisingly remains little known. John Mark Ainsley sings it with conviction, careful attention to word meanings and soaring lyricism. Michael Schade sings “Bei dir allein!” (“With You Alone!“), “Irdisches Glück” (“Earthly Happiness“) and “Lebensmut” (“Courage for Living“) with fresh-voiced ardor and urgency.
But the meat of this recital is the great Schwanengesang, one of the glories of the song literature. Seven of Schubert’s very last settings of poems by Rellstab, six to poems of Heinrich Heine and a single setting of a Seidl poem completed just weeks before Schubert’s death were gathered together and published by Tobias Haslinger, who invented the title Schwanengesang — a commercially shrewd gesture — to convey the “final flowering” of Schubert’s art. The songs do not genuinely constitute a cycle — there is no real unity of theme, narrative line or consistency of mood as in the two great Schubert cycles Die Schöne Müllerin and Winterreise. Nonetheless, some of Schubert’s finest songs are here, and in them he achieves a new expressive power and economy of means. The evidence seems to indicate that Schubert intended to publish the Rellstab and Heine songs in two separate groups. The order of the Heine group was changed by Haslinger, destroying what possible unity there might have been to the implied narrative of longing and loss. These Heine songs have a focused intensity that differentiates them from the more expansive Rellstab songs. Their drama and power reach new Schubertian heights.
Most recordings of Schwanengesang involve just one singer, but Johnson has assigned the seven Rellstab songs to John Mark Ainsley and the six Heine settings and the Seidl to Anthony Rolfe Johnson. Ainsley here explores the moods of ill-starred love, beginning with the sensual love lyric of “Liebesbotschaft” (“Love’s Message“). The almost whispered beginning of the second line brings a lovely touch of intimacy. Throughout, Ainsley sings with great sensitivity to words and a fine sense of the long legato line of the songs. He is ardent in “Kriegers Ahnung” (“Warrior’s Foreboding“) and deeply moving in the song’s final words of farewell, passionate in “Frühlingssehnsucht” (“Spring Longing“). The famous “Ständchen” (“Serenade“) is illuminated with a freshness, sensitivity, sweetness and perfect vocal control and phrasing that are a revelation. The introverted “Aufenthalt” (“Resting Place“) and “In der Ferne” (“Far Away“), both songs of tragic alienation, are sung with great power and intensity. The lightness of the last of the Rellstab settings, “Abschied” (“Farewell”) comes as a relief after the stark drama of the two previous songs. Ainsley charmingly captures its jauntiness.
The six Heine songs by and large occupy a different world from Rellstab’s. Their strange power and conciseness signify a new turn for Schubert, their beauty frequently a stark one. Anthony Rolfe Johnson is appropriately passionate in the magnificent “Der Atlas” (“Atlas”). He captures the bleakness of “Ihr Bild” (“Her Portrait”) and is enchantingly sweet in “Das Fischermädchen” (“The Fishermaiden”).
The swirling, impressionistic diminshed-seventh piano arpeggios of “Die Stadt” (“The Town”) mark a song whose stark emotional intensity and bare introspection are responsively handled by Johnson. “Der Doppelgänger” (“The Wraith”), one of the greatest, most powerful songs ever written, looks to the future anticipating even the Sprechgesang of the twentieth century. Its bare piano chords support a heart-wrenching vocal line in which Johnson captures the dramatic, impassioned declamation. Just occasionally, in high notes, his tone dries out a bit, but this is a minor flaw in an otherwise fine performance.
Johnson’s piano accompaniments here, as they have been throughout the series, are highly illuminating, and his text notes are an unprecedented mine of information. A separately bound index to the entire Schubert Lieder Edition is included in this final volume. As in almost every one of the discs, the recording is well-nigh perfect. Congratulations to all!
A worthy conclusion to a magnificent project, then, and highly recommendable, as are so many of these wonderful discs.
So the Hyperion Schubert Edition is now complete. It is an extraordinary achievement, one of the most significant contributions that has been made to the recorded literature. First of all, it is a tribute to Graham Johnson, whose conception the project was, whose piano accompaniments are superb, and whose textual notes are unprecedented in their completeness, scholarship, breadth and great interest. (To read them all is a major project in itself!) It is also a tribute to Ted Perry whose taste, courage, intelligence and determination have made Hyperion Records a major force in the industry. Bravi!
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