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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition, Vol. 6
Schiller-Lieder Vol.1

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 801.
Martin Bruns (bar.); Ulrich Eisenlohr (pno.)
Recorded April 2000 at the Burgerhaus Backnang.
NAXOS  8.554740 [68.01]
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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 often.

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 distinguished ladies.

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, I think.

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.

John Quinn

For reviews of other releases in this series,
see the Naxos Deutsche Schubert-Lied Edition page


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