Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition, Vol. 6
Der Taucher, D111; Punschlied, D253; Der Alpenjager, D588; Der Jungling
am Bache, D638; Elysium, D584; Der Fluchtling, D402; Laura am Clavier, D388;
Der Kampf, D594; Die Entzuckung an Laura, D390; Dithyrambe, D
Martin Bruns (bar.); Ulrich
Recorded April 2000 at the Burgerhaus
The Hyperion Schubert Lieder Edition, recently completed, has rightly won
plaudits from many quarters. Now Naxos has launched a similar enterprise
of which this CD is one of the first instalments. The edition is based on
authoritative musical sources as the accompanying notes explain.
Such is the standard which Naxos CDs regularly attain these days that, although
they retail for much less than their Hyperion rivals I think it is only right
that these Naxos Schubert discs should be treated as direct competitors of
Hyperion even though the contents of the CDs are unlikely to overlap too
So, how does this current disc measure up to the high standards set by Hyperion?
There are some similarities and some points of contrast. Most particularly,
a pianist masterminds both Editions. Ulrich Eisenlohr is the artistic advisor
for the Naxos project as Graham Johnson was for Hyperion. We are told that
Eisenlohr will be using German speaking for all the discs. Hyperion did not
follow this principle though I must say I never found this a limitation.
Presumably, Eisenlohr will follow Johnson in choosing songs, within a thematic
scheme for each disc, which will particularly suit an individual singer.
No doubt he will also divide the "plums" among a number of artists.
The present CD includes 10 settings of poems by Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805).
The songs were composed at various times between 1781 and 1826 and so cover
a good part of Schubert's creative life. The singer to whom they are entrusted
is a young Swiss baritone, Martin Bruns.
I have compared Bruns' recordings with various rival contributors to the
Hyperion Edition: it is interesting to note that two of his rivals are
Bruns sings the fairly unremarkable Punschlied in an appropriately
forthright manner. On Hyperion (Vol. 20) it is presented, more imaginatively,
I think, as a duet for two tenors. In Der Alpenjager Bruns comes into
competition with Dame Janet Baker (Vol.1). This is quite an episodic song,
mixing dramatic and reflective passages. Bruns is effective in the dramatic
passages (so is Baker) but in the calmer sections Baker displays a much more
seamless legato. I also find Graham Johnson's accompaniment more thoughtful
- perhaps it helps that he is less forwardly recorded than Eisenlohr.
Over the years, as the Hyperion Edition was released a number of reviewers
complained that the performers were set in a rather too resonant acoustic
and were a bit too recessed in the sound picture. I must say that this never
troubled me greatly: I rather preferred some space round both the singer
and the piano. This Naxos recording is much more forward and by the time
I reached track 4 (Der Jungling am Bache) I had come to feel that
the less up-front Hyperion sound brings distinct advantages. By comparison
with Thomas Allen (Hyperion Vol.16) Bruns seems to invest this song with
less light and shade. His is a more plain reading and because he is recorded
more 'presently' we register that more. He and Eisenlohr adopt a less flowing
tempo than Allen and Johnson and this gives the latter team a decided advantage,
However, when we hear Elysium, sung for Hyperion (Vol.11) by Brigitte
Fassbaender, I think that comparisons are more to Bruns' advantage. To be
sure, Fassbaender is more characterful, as one would expect from such an
interventionist singer. However, the song can be interpreted just as validly,
perhaps more so, on a straightforward level and this Bruns does to good effect.
Either approach, or performance, will give pleasure.
One final comparison. The first track on Bruns' disc is Der Taucher,
one of Schubert's lengthy ballad settings. This appeared on Vol. 2 of the
Hyperion Edition, sung by Stephen Varcoe. It is not an easy piece to bring
off, not least in terms of retaining the listener's attention, and both singers
do it well. I must say I find Bruns a more gripping narrator though the pianist
is just as important a protagonist and I think Johnson brings out more drama
than does Eisenlohr.
Without comparing the remaining songs with their Hyperion equivalents I hope
I have given a flavour of the state of the respective parties. Bruns and
Eisenlohr present a very satisfying recital. However, good as they are, I
found that when comparisons were made generally the Hyperion versions revealed
more subtleties. However, Naxos are to be commended warmly for providing
a very viable alternative to the full price Hyperion Edition. There is no
compromise on documentation. Full texts and translations are provided and
there are good notes. These contain not only useful comments on each song
but also provide good background about Schiller and his poetry. The notes
are less comprehensive than those which Graham Johnson contributed to the
Hyperion Edition (which became a work of art in their own right as the series
unfolded). For this very reason they may be more "user friendly" for the
general listener or for someone beginning an exploration of Schubert's lieder.
For collectors in either category this CD offers very good value.
For reviews of other releases in this series,
see the Naxos
Deutsche Schubert-Lied Edition page