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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Lieder nach Texten von Friedrich Schiller

Der Pilgrim, D794 [5.47]
Der Alpenjäger D 588 [6.50]
Der Flüchtling D 402 [5.57]
Ritter Toggenburg D397 [9.51]
Die Bürgschaft D 246 [18.55]
Die Erwartung D 159 [13.17]
Dithyrambe D 801 [3.24]
Die Götter Griechenlands D 677 [5.18]
Hoffnung D 637 [4.49]
Robert Holl, baritone, David Lutz, piano
rec. Casino Baumgarten, Vienna, December 2001. ADD
PREISER RECORDS 90528 [73.51]

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This disc from Preiser presents a selection of Schubert’s less well-known Schiller settings. The sleeve-notes elucidate the difficulties Schubert faced in setting Schiller and explain that Schubert’s motive was a fellow-feeling for the poet and the "idealistic content" he found in the poems. Certainly, he was not led by an innate sense of musicality in the rather tortuous, abstruse, complex construction of the poems. They are written in a highly literary style and do not lend themselves naturally to musical setting.

Unfortunately, the performance here does not do justice to Schubert’s results. In the first song, Der Pilgrim, Schubert paints a picture of the tramping footsteps of the pilgrim on his way. Plod, plod, plod goes the deeply dull, pompous and grave performance, without any relief. We hope that the performers are just being a little over-zealous in their adherence to Schubert’s clever musical depiction ... but, alas, this is not the case. In the second, livelier, song, Der Alpenjager, the real problem is clearly demonstrated and illuminated in the metronomic approach evident from the piano interludes. The pianist is playing without any apparent expression, emotion or understanding. He is literally just hitting the keys in front of him, and whilst he keeps perfectly in time with Robert Holl, he is not accompanying the singer, just playing alongside him. There is no response or rapport between the piano and singer, and Lutz seems to have no idea why he's playing the notes that he is. As the disc goes on, this problem becomes a real hindrance. There is absolutely no evidence of any interpretation on the part of the pianist – his playing completely lacks fluidity, flexibility, nuances, and even dynamics – in this he is like an organist without a swell pedal.

Robert Holl, on the other hand, does attempt to provide some contrast in his singing but does not really succeed. He is inextricably hampered by the following pianist, and would probably do far better with a vaguely sympathetic accompanist. Although he has a very good voice, it is more of an operatic voice rather than one suited to lieder. It is slightly stand-off-ish, not accessible and friendly, and the singing comes across as rather dull.

There are some good songs here – the thoroughly enjoyable Dithyrambe for example, and the last couple of songs – Die Götter Griechenlands and Hoffnung, which were both more sensitively sung by Holl. Yet the disc as a whole lacks insight and finesse and is boring, unemotional, pedestrian and insouciant. The recording does not help, with a rather dead and wooden acoustic, and no resonance. Bear in mind, further, that these are not Schubert’s best songs, nor are they the easiest to sing – they require deep understanding of the words, and whilst the pianist lacks comprehension of the music, Holl also lacks it of the poems, resulting in rather unnatural singing and a dead performance. So, the combination of Schiller, Holl and Lutz does not bring out the best in Schubert!

There are other recordings of these songs, including Siegfried Lorenz and Norman Shetler, who cover Der Pilgrim, Hoffnung and Die Bürgschaft on Berlin Classics and

Christoph Prégardien and Andreas Staier on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, who include the same three, as well Der Alpenjäger and Die Götter Griechenlands.

There is also a two volume Schiller set from Naxos (Vol 1, Vol 2), part of their Schubert Lied Edition. Volume 1 includes Der Alpenjäger, Dithyrambe and Der Flüchtling with Martin Bruns, baritone and Ulrich Eisenlohr, piano, and the second set has Regina Jakobi accompanied by the same pianist, in Der Pilgrim, Hoffnung, and Die Bürgschaft. Although some of these discs have their problems, too, I would recommend any of them above this – which could only have a market for people who like Schiller more than Schubert. I have always loved Schubert’s songs but were I (heaven forbid!) unfamiliar with them, this disc would definitely put me off.

Em Marshall

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