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Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1779-1828)
Austrian Contemporaries Vol. 2

Die Unglückliche, D713 (1817?; publ. 1821) [6’08]. Widerspruch, D865 (1826?; publ 1828) [2’14]. Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe, D955 (1828) [4’46]. Frohsinn, D520 (1817) [2’17]. Die abgeblühte Linde, D514 (1817?; publ. 1821) [3’37]. Der Flug der Zeit, D515 (1817?; publ. 1821) [1’31]. Das Heimweh, D851 (publ. 1827) [6’48]. Die Allmacht, D852 (1825) [5’12]. Labetrank der Liebe, D302 (1815) [2’41]. An die Geliebte, D303 (1815) [1’47]. Vergebliche Liebe, D177 (1815) [2’03]. Die Sterne, D176 (1815) [3’00]. Die erste Liebe, D177 (1815) [2’47]. Lob des Tokayers, D248 (1815) [2’48]. Der Zufriedene, D320 (1815) [2’07]. Der Sänger am Felsen, D482 (1816) [3’00]. Skolie, D306 (1815) [1’04]. Die Befreier Europas in Paris, D104 (1814) [4’01]. Abschied (melodram), D829 (1826) [2’18]. Die Fröhlichkeit, D262 (1815) [1’45].
Detlef Roth (baritone); Ulrich Eisenlohr (piano).
Texts and translations included.
Rec. Radiostudio1, Zurich, on May 24th-28th, 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557172 [65’00]

 

A real success, this. Detlef Roth is an accomplished baritone, and certainly very attuned to Schubert lieder. This is a varied programme of mainly lesser-known songs (although the inclusion of Die Allmacht will give many a place to lay anchor). Roth is a German singer with an international career. His strong, well-balanced baritone suits Schubert perfectly; as a native speaker, his diction is superb.

A collection of lieder on texts by Schubert’s Austrian contemporaries means in this instance a chance to acquaint oneself with some of the byways of Schubertian song production. And a delightful stroll it is, too.

There are two lieder over six minutes in duration. Die Unglückliche (with which the present collection opens) sets up a rather solemn, dejected mode (in fact the trajectory of the recital as a whole moves, generally, from emotional darkness to light). The piano introduction is decidedly world-weary, over whose gently throbbing chords Roth delicately spins Schubert’s melody (‘Night falls, with gentle breezes sinks down/Over weary mortals’). A more disturbed second stanza provides contrast; the close, several verses on, is ultra-gentle, evoking the stillness of the end. Naxos’s recording is excellent, faithfully reproducing Eisenlohr’s warmth of tone. Karoline Pichler (1769-1843) was the enlightened poet; it is a lovely poem in its own right.

Hunting gestures in the piano are part and parcel of Wiederspruch (‘Contradiction’), on a poem by Johann Gabreil Seidl (1804-1875). Playful and joyous, a lovely touch comes at the fourth stanza where bare octaves provide contrast; a delightful warming of harmonies as the protagonist refers to a ‘Kämmerlein’ (a little room) where his heart is longing.

The prayer-like Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe (poet Christoph Kuffner, 1780-1846) reveals Roth’s smooth and impressive legato. This is a magical and at heart gentle lied. Roth commendably does not over-vibrato the line – he can do that Schubertian simplicity that it takes an artist of some maturity to achieve.

When Schubert ‘did’ carefree, it was like no-one else, and so it proves in Frohsinn (‘Joy’, text Ignaz Franz Castelli, 1781-1862). The piano part is cheeky. Perhaps it could be even more so than here.

A fair number of Romantic preoccupations have already made themselves known (night, nature, wandering and … of course …death). Absent so far, however, is the humble lime-tree so beloved of German Romantic poetry. We have to wait a full four tracks before, finally at track 5, it appears, albeit faded (Die abgelblühte Linde – ‘The Faded Lime Tree’, text Ludwig von Széchényi, 1781-1855). Here it is the symbolism of the flowering lime tree that concerns us, and the toll of the seasons thereon. Schubert treats his subject in hypnotic, almost worshipping, fashion, its stoic nature (always there, yet unnoticed in winter except by the gardener) and humankind’s reactions thereto stunningly projected. Worth the wait.

Time is another Romantic obsession, its very nature and its unstoppability. Der Flug der Zeit (‘The Flight of Time’, text also von Széchényi) visits this subject, impulsive and flighty.

The prize for the best poet’s name goes to the author of the text to Das Heimweh (‘Homesickness’), a certain Johann Ladislaus Pyrker von Felsö-Eör (1772-1847). Naxos’ excellent annotations alert the reader to Schubert’s textual additions as well as pointing out diversions from the original. The song, Schubert’s D851, rises to a fair climax. Here is Schubert stretching his muscles (at 6’48) while simultaneously revelling in some unabashed pictorialism: the sweetness he calls on when the text refers to the dairymaid’s song in the final stanza.

All of which brings us to ‘the famous one’, Die Allmacht, D852. The opening piano chords could have more tonal depth to them, and so it is left to Roth to impart a sense of vast might. Which he almost does, with some marvellously clean slurs along the way. Just a slight thinness to the upper register detracts, yet the climax when it comes is supremely dramatic. Schubert really could speak volumes within the space of a few moments.

A couple of simpler Lieder follow Labetrank der Liebe, D177 (‘Refreshing drink of Love’, text Johann Ludwig Stoll, 1778-1815) and An die Geliebte, D303 (‘To the beloved’, also Stoll), both winningly despatched (particularly affecting are the descending figures in the latter Lied that seem to prefigure Brahms). Vergebliche Liebe, D177 (‘Love in vain’, text Joseph Karl Bernatd, 1780/1-1850) has two stanzas shot through with regret; hope does appear in the third and final stanza, however small may be the glimmer of hope.

Eloquent questioning forms the basis of the first stanza of Die Sterne (‘The Stars,’ text Johann Georg Fellinger, 1781-1816). Roth’s smooth legato is a joy, as is his simplicity of utterance in Die erste Liebe (‘First Love’, text Fellinger again). There is some slight strain possibly at the high end of Roth’s voice, but it is worth it for a poem that for once has a happy ending!.

Lob des Tokayers, D248 (‘In Praise of Tokay’, poem Gabriele von Baumberg) immediately put me in mind of Schumann’s Die beide Grenadieren in its swaggering gait (indeed, it seems to want to quote the Marseillaise, without ever doing so!!). This is a fun, light-hearted ditty in praise of wine, made sparkling by Eisenlohr’s excellent staccato.

Roth’s shading is demonstrated amply by the second verse of Der Sänger am Felsen, D482, (‘The Singer on the Rock’, words Pichler) a beautiful, desolate song of mourning; Ferne von der grossen Stadt (‘Far from the Great City’, text again Pichler) despite its title is a breath of fresh air, air that Roth and Eisenlohr seem to enjoy breathing (similarly in Skolie, D306, text Johann Ludwig von Deinhardstein).

The only lied to vie with Die Allmacht in sheer level of inspiration is Der Befreier Europas in Paris, D104 (‘The Liberators of Europe in Paris’, text Johann Christian Mikan). This is a magnificent creation, and that very magnificence comes across perfectly here (only what may be a touch of artificial reverb at levels above forte detracting).

The surprise comes with the ‘Melodram’ Abschied (‘Farewell’, text Adolf von Pratobevera). The text is spoken (recited). It is interesting, coming across almost as a children’s story, an impression heightened by the music-box nature of the piano part.

Finally, Die Fröhlichkeit, D262 (‘Joyfulness, text Martin Joseph Prandstetter, 1760-1798) a simple, happy-go-lucky ditty extolling the virtues of a cheerful outlook on life. A nice way to end, delightfully rendered by all concerned. Good advice, too.

This disc is a voyage of discovery, a treasure-trove fully worthy of investigation.

Colin Clarke

See also review by Christopher Howells


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