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Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition 19: Poets of Sensibility, Vols. 1 and 2
Lieder nach Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock

Dem Unendlichen D 291☼; Selma und Selmar D 286♀♂; Furcht der Geliebten D 285♂; An Sie D 288♀; Edone D 445♂; Das Rosenband D280♀; Vaterlandslied D287♀; Hermann und Thusnelda D322♀♂; Die frühen Gräber D290♀; Die Sommernacht D289♂; Die Gestirne D444☼
Lieder nach Friedrich von Matthisson

An Laura (als sie Klopstocks Auferstehungslied sang) D115♂; Erinnerung ("Totenopfer") D101☼; Die Betende D102♀; Trost. An Elisa D97♂; Die Sterbende D186♀; Vollendung D579A☼; Entzückung D413♂; Stimme der Liebe (1st setting) D187♀; Andenken D99☼; Erinnerungen D98♂; Der Geistertanz (1st setting, fragment) D15☼; Stimme der Liebe (2nd setting) D418☼; Lied aus der Ferne D107♂; Geist der Liebe D414♀; Der Geistertanz (2nd setting, fragment) D15☼; Lied der Liebe D109♂; Geisternähe D100☼; Der Abend D108♀; Der Geistertanz (3rd setting) D116☼; Lebenslied D508☼; Romanze D114☼; Die Erde D579B♀; Skolie D507☼; Naturgenuss D188♀; Die Schatten D50♂; Totenkranz für ein Kind D275♀; Klage D415☼; Julius an Theone D419♂; Adelaide D95♂
Simone Nold (soprano)♀, Marcus Ullmann (tenor)♂, Thomas Bauer (baritone)☼, Ulrich Eisenlohr (fortepiano)
Recorded at Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich, Germany from November 10th to 14th, 2003, and from January 12 to 16th, 2004
NAXOS 8.557371-72 [50:45 + 56:20]

Naxos are nearing the end of their Marathon Schubert-Lied-Edition. This double-CD is volume 19 and to be honest they are now beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel. This may sound harsh but truth to tell I always enjoy listening to Schubert’s songs, even those not from the top drawer. The present helping is unmistakably Schubertian, his melodic gift always astonishing. Considering how much he wrote in his all-too-short life his achievement has to be one of the true miracles in the history of creative arts. And just as I can’t imagine living on a diet of pâté de foie gras and miss the pleasure of a steak-and-kidney-pie, I would sorely miss some of the less-than-masterpieces that I frequently encounter, both as reviewer and "private" listener – provided they are well performed.

In the main I think Naxos have been quite successful in their choice of singers for this series, even though the general excellence of execution may be even higher on the comparable Hyperion Schubert Edition. Graham Johnson, who master-minded that edition picked more famous names while Ulrich Eisenlohr chose younger singers – fresher of voice in some instances – and opted for German speakers. The other difference is the grouping of songs: while Johnson skilfully found themes, Eisenlohr presents the songs according to poets (in some cases Johnson did that too). If some company would enter on a similar journey for the third time, which seems unlikely at the moment, they might choose the to me most obvious road: recording the songs in chronological order.

For the present discs, containing songs based on poems by Klopstock and Matthisson, Naxos have engaged three singers, of whom Thomas Bauer has already appeared on a couple of discs in the recently begun Schumann cycle, one of which I praised not long ago. The tenor Marcus Ullmann has a fairly long list of recordings for other labels, not least Bach cantatas, and I was deeply impressed by his unforced lyrical singing in a performance of Haydn’s The Seasons in Savonlinna a few years ago. The soprano Simone Nold was new to me, although I see in the booklet that she has been busy singing a variety of music in Europe and the US for quite some time and UK audiences may have heard her at the Proms and also as Sophie in Covent Garden’s Rosenkavalier.

The real novelty, though, on this issue is that Ulrich Eisenlohr has changed from pianoforte to fortepiano, what in Germany is called "Hammerflügel". There is of course a point here, since the frailer tone of the fortepiano comes closer to what Schubert and his contemporaries expected to hear. The question is why he didn’t settle for a fortepiano from the outset or what specifically in these particular songs makes the instrument more suitable. A short note in the booklet only states: "The historical instrument is particularly well suited in timbre to the work of ‘poets of sensibility’ and music of the period, in contrast to the virtuosity of the later nineteenth and of the twentieth centuries". Yes, and ...?

Not that I complain, but in the name of consistency, he should have contemplated this right from the beginning, making the project even more of an alternative to the Hyperion series. Anyway, Ulrich Eisenlohr is a splendid accompanist, the balance between voices and instrument excellently judged and the crisper tones of the Hammerflügel create an agreable "historical" atmosphere.

Of the singers Thomas Bauer seems predestined to become a really important Lieder artist, or rather, he is already. His voice is both lyrically beautiful and powerfully dramatic and he colours it skillfully according to the textual needs. And therein lies the secret: a good Lieder artist must be able to convey the message that lies in the text, the text that once inspired the composer; Bauer sings "off the text", he lives the text. Just listen to three songs from the first CD: tracks 1, Dem Unendlichen, 11, Die Gestirne and 13, Erinnerung – he is lively, he is intense and the text is always on the tip of his tongue.

Marcus Ullmann has frankly one of the most elegant and fluent lyrical tenor voices around and he also knows how to turn a phrase convincingly. The only problem, if that is what it is, might be that there is a horde of similarly equipped musical, sensitive tenors out there. Compared to Bauer he has a narrower scope, it isn’t a very powerful voice and he wisely avoids pressing it beyond its natural limitations. Still on CD1 he can be heard to good effect on track 10, Die Sommernacht, and 12, An Laura.

Simone Nold studied with Reri Grist in Munich and she has something of her teacher’s eager delivery and glittering tones but, as recorded here anyway, also a more one-dimensional sound. It is a beautiful voice and she phrases so well but there is little variation of tone. Still one must admire her in songs like Die Betende and Die Sterbende (CD1 tracks 14 and 16).

There are quite a few songs by the young Schubert and even a couple of fragments, that are useful since they let us look into the composer’s workshop and ponder over why he didn’t finish them. Good booklet notes by Ira Schulze-Ardeey but no texts and translations – it’s up to the listener to download them from which I still think is a little mean.

Not an essential issue for general listeners perhaps, but Schubert completists will need it and anyone curious about some lesser known repertoire can rest assured that the singing is fully worthy of the songs.

Göran Forsling

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


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