The Naxos "Deutsche
Schubert-Lied-Edition" is beginning
to near its end. It will be the second
ever, only preceded by Hyperion’s edition,
quite recently reissued as a jumbo-box.
They are not quite comparable since
Hyperion arranged the songs thematically
while Naxos present them according to
poets. In the reissue box Hyperion group
them chronologically, which means there
is a mix of singers and acoustics. Both
sets have their ups and downs even though
the Hyperion may be the safer bet. There
are many good things in the Naxos edition
which seems to have been luckier with
the male singers than the female. The
present disc illustrates this. Like
several other discs in the series this
has two singers sharing the space.
In a way the juxtaposition
is unfair to the soprano, having to
be judged against one of the greatest
Lieder-singers of the last twenty years.
Wolfgang Holzmair is still in the top
of the trade. His is a true baritone,
a manly voice of medium size, rounded
tone all through the range, no sharp
edges, and a natural skill – and willingness
– to scale down and sing softly. What
really makes him stand out as an ideal
Lieder-singer is his phrasing; his ability
to find the natural ebb-and-flow of
the music. Every phrase sounds so right
and always seems on the way somewhere.
Take almost any song at random and "Yes,
this is the way it should be!"
Die Mainacht (track 10) and Am
ersten Maimorgen (track 11) are
good examples. There is also a lightness,
an effortlessness, that is the hallmark
of all great Lieder-singers (Die
Knabenzeit track 16).
Set against Holzmair
soprano Birgid Steinberger seems one-dimensional,
both in her interpretations and when
it comes to the actual vocal qualities.
She has a bright, soubrettish voice
with a tendency towards squalliness.
It is also rather monochrome. The high
notes can be strained and vibrato-laden.
It seems that she has to struggle with
each phrase, each note. The shrillness
also masks the care with which she approaches
the songs and the suspicion of a beat
affects the line of her phrases. At
least this is the impression one gets
from the first tracks. I don’t know
in what order the songs were recorded,
but since the sessions were spread over
almost a week it is quite possible that
she was in various form during this
period. An die Nachtigall (track
12) finds her more relaxed, more expressive
and with better voice control. Stolberg’s
Abendlied (track 20) is also
one of her better efforts, inwardly
sung. Here she can sing soft phrases
with practically no vibrato, but it
could be more varied, since the simple
strophic setting makes it feel overlong.
She brings the disc to an attractive
end, giving a simple and sensitive reading
of probably the most well-known song
in this recital, the anonymous Wiegenlied
("Schlafe, süsser holder Knabe").
This is good Lieder-singing of considerable
beauty. I wish she could have accomplished
more of that kind. Then this would have
been a thoroughly recommendable disc.
As it is, it’s a matter of swings and
roundabouts, redeemed to a large extent
by the singing of Wolfgang Holzmair.
For a fiver or so this is reason enough
to buy it. Another reason is the piano-playing
of Ulrich Eisenlohr, or rather fortepiano-playing.
For the "Poets of Sensibility"
volumes he has chosen the predecessor
of the concert-grand thus coming closer
to the sound Schubert would have expected:
lighter and more transparent. There
are few established masterpieces here,
but since this is middle-period Schubert,
everything is of some interest and completists
need it. They should know that they
will have to search in vain for the
texts and translations in the booklet.
Instead they have to be downloaded from
For reviews of other releases in this
see the Naxos
Deutsche Schubert-Lied Edition page