At last Naxos seems
to be on a winner in its Schubert series.
Given that the competition is so intense,
they had two choices: either to produce
something so cheap it would undercut
its rivals, or go upmarket and produce
something of genuine quality. With this
release they are choosing the latter
course. Holzmairís warm, Austrian-inflected
baritone is excellent in Schubert, though
those who think only in terms of Fischer-Dieskauís
more Teutonic style may not take to
it. However, Schubert wasnít German.
Holzmairís gentler, more lyrical ambience
captures the composerís natural character
very well indeed.
This disc is part of
a newish Naxos series, curated by Ulrich
Eisenlohr, gradually building up to
a complete edition of the songs organized
by theme. This particular disc thus
highlights the poets of the Göttingen
Hainbund: Matthias Claudius, Ludwig
Hölty and Leopold Graf zu Stolberg.
Taking their name from a poem by Klopstock,
Der Hügel und der Hain (the
hill and the grove) they sought an approach
to poetry that was based on simple,
direct "sensibility" of feeling.
It was a departure from the more rigid
classicism of the earlier eighteenth
century, and a precursor of Romanticism.
Though the poems may be straightforward
and strophic, they have a natural grace
which Schubert had an affinity with.
Holzmair adopts a similar approach,
singing with an easy, unforced candour
that does not overpower the freshness
of the settings.
For example, listen
closely to Der Tod und das Mädchen,
where Holzmairís grasp of vocal colouring
is superb. At one moment heís singing
the fast-spaced, almost breathless lines,
then reciting words as if imitating
the slow tolling of a bell of death.
Then his voice tenderly shapes high
notes "Sei gutes Muts "while
effortlessly descending again to a quiet,
low register. Vividly, and with a minimum
of elaboration, he creates a dialogue
between the maiden and a benign, gentle
spectre of death. In Totengräberlied,
his clear articulation of the words
sharpen the colours of the vocal line,
adding a sardonic edge appropriate to
the poem. This is beautiful clear singing,
unmannered and tender, utterly in keeping
with Schubertís settings, and indeed
with the sensibility of his poets. Holzmair
is far too intelligent a singer not
to have studied texts, scores and background
before shaping his interpretations.
Indeed, in his other career as an academic
he is noted for promoting the beauties
of Austrian and South German poets and
composers. This is beautiful singing
on its own terms. After months of immersing
in Fischer-Dieskau, Holzmairís graceful,
naturalistic and very personal style
is refreshing. Of course I love Fischer-Dieskau,
but it is important to keep listening
to different voices, particularly when
one is as original and intuitively attuned
to the genre as this.
If there is a fault,
it lies in the grouping of the songs
themselves, which are mainly of a charming
but weightless character. Some could
be transposed for harpsichord or fortepiano
with little loss of impact as Eisenlohr
proves by using fortepiano. Holzmair
treats each song with dignity, however.
In Abendlied (der Mond ist
aufgegangen), where he expresses
an almost palpable sense of wonder at
the sight of moonrise. It highlights
the vocal line against the fairly mechanical
piano line. Easily the most famous song
on this set is the lovely Auf dem
Wasser zu Singen. Holzmair is in
his element, his voice gliding over
the long, soaring lines, while the piano
part plays circular figures. Almost
as famous is Seligkeit, where
if anything Holzmair is even more of
a natural. He adds delicate melismas
that reflect the grace notes on the
piano. Sparkling along, they progress
the blissful character of the song.
That final "Bliebí ich ewig
hier" is heartfelt.
Eisenlohr is a good
pianist, but one whose abilities can
dwarf less accomplished singers. Here,
he and Holzmair are an excellent match.
He writes decent liner notes, too. What
a pity that marketing constraints meant
that he could only do justice to the
first song. Nonetheless, this disc is
far and away the best in this current
Naxos series, one that experienced Schubert
collectors will appreciate. I sincerely
hope that Naxos will go for top quality
like this more often, and explore other
areas of Holzmairís repertoire. It would
be a fruitful collaboration for both.
For reviews of other releases in this
see the Naxos
Deutsche Schubert-Lied Edition page