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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Schiller-Lieder, Vols. 3 and 4

CD 1 (1)
Der Jüngling am Bache – 1st setting D30 [03:36], 2nd setting D192 [03:00], 3rd setting, first version D638 [04:50], Das Geheimnis – 1st setting D250 [03:03], 2nd setting D793 [05:32], Leichenfantasie D7 [18:52], Der Graf von Habsburg D990 [01:54], Die Erwartung D159 [10:28]
CD 2 (2)
An den Frühling – 1st setting D283 [01:35], 2nd setting, second version D587 [02:27], Die Götter Griechenlands D677 [04:25], Des Mädchens Klage – 1st setting D6 [03:26], 2nd setting, first version D191 [03:26], 3rd setting D389 [03:39], Klage der Ceres D323 [16:36], Thekla – 1st setting D73 [03:21], 2nd setting, first version D595 [01:42], 2nd setting, second version D595 [04:59]
Maya Boog (soprano) (2), Lothar Odinius (tenor) (1), Ulrich Eisenlohr (piano)
Recorded at DRS, Zurich, Switzerland, 10th-13th November 2004 (1), 2nd-4th December 2003 (2)
NAXOS 8.557369-70 [51:15 + 47:15]


Quite a while back I reviewed a disc of songs by Schubert’s near-contemporary Carl Loewe and remarked that, if Schubert’s own Lieder had remained unknown, or if diffusion of them had been delayed another fifty years, the German Lied would probably have taken quite a different course. It would very likely have developed into something much more virtuosic and elaborate, less aimed towards domestic circumstances. The present CD prompts the reflection that Schubert himself could easily have taken the Lied in a quite different direction for here, prompted by a poet whose interests ranged far beyond the local and picturesque (and maybe losing, on the way, the profound intimacy of feeling which inspired Schubert’s settings of Goethe, Heine, Rückert or the much-maligned Müller), he was very ready, especially in his early years, to adopt a wide-ranging, often declamatory style. Such extended works as Leichenfantasie, Die Erwartung and Klage der Ceres, with their different sections making up "Lied-within-Lied" should perhaps be called vocal cantatas; the more mature Schubert ceased to write such works and none of his successors returned to them. All the same, they stay the course remarkably well (more than some of Schubert’s extended Lieder in ballad-form that have come my way) and the Leichenfantasie is certainly a remarkable achievement (and an astonishing choice of subject) for a fourteen-year-old.

All the same, when Die Erwartung reaches the verse Mein Ohr umtönt ein Harmonienfluss our ears prick up at a genuinely Schubertian turn of melody and we suddenly realize that much of what we have been hearing is not very typical of Schubert, not only in its form but in the actual sound of the music. Much of this sounds rather like middle-period Beethoven.

That the two extended settings on the first CD wear their length so easily is probably a tribute to Lothar Odinius who is in the best tradition of German tenors, his timbre round and even, sweetened in the upper range with a touch of head voice (i.e. the opposite of the Italian school) and never becoming nasal or reedy as do, well, some quite highly-regarded countrymen of his. Attentive to words and phrasing and unfailingly musical, this is model Lied-singing. However, there is a downside, which I shall come to later.

Maya Boog is likely to be more controversial. I was critical of her contribution to "European Poets, Vol. 2" in this same series and my colleague Goran Försling has already expressed doubts regarding the present disc. Certainly, when under pressure she can get squally – try the first Des Mädchens Klage setting – and her vibrato on top notes can be a bit loose. On the other hand, when she just has a warm melody in the middle range of the voice, as in the second and third settings of that same poem, or the two versions of the second setting of Thekla – she can spin an exquisite line. She is helped by having a larger share of genuinely Schubertian material than Odinius, but she makes good use of it. Wondering if I had been hard on her I sampled the previous disc and can happily report that she has corrected a number of its faults here. At her best, and in her best range, her timbre has a girlish tone which may recall Teresa Stich-Randall or, further back still, Erna Berger, but she will have to extend the same control to her top notes if she wants future generations to rate her at that level. Still, I shall be interested to hear her in a few years’ time and, whatever you may say, it’s a voice with personality. At the end of the disc I suddenly realised that I couldn’t remember anything at all about Odinius’s CD; expert professionalism doesn’t always make for memorable results. Excellent accompanying all through.

Readers who have been collecting this series had better be warned that there are signs of cost-cutting afoot. The double pack alluded to above came in a fat case which had room for a booklet with extensive notes, texts and translations. Now we get a "single" jewel-case with a double-backed spider to accommodate the two discs. The slimmer booklet still has full notes by Eisenlohr, the mastermind behind the series as well as the pianist of most of the discs, but for texts and translations we now have to go to Naxos’s website. The expansive layout of the text means that I had to print out 27 pages for the German texts and a further 13 for the translations. So that means that, to the modest cost of the two CDs you have to add the cost of quite a long Internet connection, at the end of which you have 40 meagrely-filled sheets of A4 to file away somewhere (certainly not inside the jewel-case!), or does today’s throw-away generation just trash them and print them out again every time you listen to the CD? Also, the timings are not exactly generous; another 30-35 minutes of music could have been accommodated here. Looked at this way, these Naxos discs are not quite as cheap as they seem or, from another point of view, the additional costs of the generally more reliable Hyperion alternatives are not quite as great.

There have been far worse volumes in this uneven series but on the whole this is one for those collecting the lot or who particularly need one or more of the rarer songs, rather than a must for all Lieder-collectors.

Christopher Howell

see also review by Goran Forsling


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