I have recently spoken enthusiastically about the 12th
volume in this Naxos series – Mayrhofer-Lieder sung by Christiane
Iven – and here is another outstanding bargain. This time the
pianist is Ulrich Eisenlohr, who is masterminding the whole series,
and he proves to be a marvellous player – Schubert’s range of
colours is always precisely observed – and above all a marvellous
accompanist. His breathing is always at one with the singer and
he knows just when to fall into the background and when to bring
forward a phrase or a figure which is an essential part of the
The principal offering here is the set of nine
songs (the first nine listed above) to poems by the tragically
short-lived Ernst Schulze (1789-1817). They are all late works
(1825-6) and were published in drips and drabs from 1827-1838.
They were not, so far as we know, intended as a cycle, yet when
assembled as such they amount to a substantial 36-minute sequence
and appear as a forerunner of the two great cycles that came soon
afterwards. Although the songs are all basically strophic, with
only a few variations, they find Schubert in his most impassioned
romantic vein, offering the singer scope for a wide range of expression
and providing the pianist with plenty of rewarding writing. One
song, "Im Frühling", is universally known, and
yet it gains from being heard in context. The "cycle"
as such appeared on CD in Vol. 18 of the Hyperion Schubert edition,
sung by the tenor Peter Schreier. That disc is, incredibly, ten
years old now, so it was time for an alternative, and Naxos have
seen that it is a genuine alternative by giving us a baritone
And sung by a very good baritone, I should add.
Müller-Brachmann has an attractively warm and even voice,
and he really makes a lot out of the words. This is a slightly
different approach to lieder singing than that of Christiane Iven
in Vol. 12 of this series. I remarked that Iven harked back to
the pre-Fischer-Dieskau approach in that she gives us a bel canto
delivery of the music, in which the words, clear though they are,
are not allowed to disturb the melodic line. Müller-Brachmann
is closer to Fischer-Dieskau in his stressing and underlining
of single words, often stretching the rhythm in order to do so.
Since he is a highly musical artist he manages to stay the right
side of the dividing-line between stretching and distortion and
I do not wish to suggest that one approach is better than the
other. How splendid that this series should encompass such different
styles of presentation.
And yet, when I took out the Fischer-Dieskau
versions of the two songs with texts by Karl Lappe (1773-1843)
– "Der Einsame" and "Im Abendrot" – there
were important differences too. Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore
(DG) give the first of these with an almost Stravinskian drollness.
The great baritone husbands and cossets his words but the tempo
stays pretty strict. Müller-Brachmann and Eisenlohr are slightly
swifter, but also allow themselves more elbow-room for little
slowings down. Schubert’s cheeky humour is not lost sight of,
but it is made to alternate with more affectionate moments in
which the words are taken at face value. Fascinating to have these
In "Im Abendrot" Fischer-Dieskau shows
a dynamic range and shading which are quite extraordinary – in
these moments we have to admit the difference between greatness
and mere excellence – but Müller-Brachmann (not so different
in basic concept) is rewarding on his own terms. An interesting
alternative in this song comes from Vesselina Kasarova, who invests
the second stanza with a tone of angry protest not to be heard
in the other two performances.
The disc closes with one of Schubert’s most famous
songs, "Der Wanderer", in a version that loses little
in comparison with Fischer-Dieskau. As with any complete cycle,
you have to take your rough with your smooth, and the 10-minute
ballad "Don Gayseros" is an early and unconvincing piece,
but everything else, well-known or not, testifies to the composer’s
In conclusion I compared several versions of
"Im Frühling" and I have to say that, though a
good many fine pianists have recorded it, Edwin Fischer, the greatest
of all Schubert pianists, is surely unsurpassable in his recording
with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. There is such translucence to his
tone, and such variety of expression without the need to storm
and shout. And Schwarzkopf, in other contexts inclined towards
mannerism, simply comments as if spellbound. When she sings "See
how the colours of spring/Look out from bud and blossom"
she need hardly do more than sing the words simply, for Fischer
has already painted spring in all its range of colours. And how
magically he rings the changes at the fifth stanza where others
go on the rampage!
At the other extreme is Kasarova, all youthful
passion and pain, impulsive and probably wrong-headed, but convincing
in her way. Müller-Brachmann is somewhere in the middle,
and seems ideal in context.
The recording is excellent though I found it
sounded best if played at a rather high level; Eisenlohr provides
useful notes and we get the texts with English translation, so
here is another splendid achievement in an important Naxos cycle.
For reviews of other releases in this
see the Naxos
Deutsche Schubert-Lied Edition page