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Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition 21: Poets of Sensibility, Volume 4: Zufriedenheit (2nd setting) D501; Das Lied vom Reifen D532*; An die Natur D372; Morgenlied D266*; Blumenlied D431; Pflicht und Liebe (Fragment) D467*; Erntelied D434; Zufriedenheit (1st setting) D362; Mailied D503*; Die Mainacht D194; Am ersten Maimorgen D344; An die Nachtigall D497*; Daphne am Bach D411*; Frühlingslied D398; Phidile D500*; Die Knabenzeit D400; An den Mond D468*; An die Nachtigall D196*; Klage um Ali Bey D496A; Abendlied D276*; Winterlied D401; Am Grabe Anselmos D504*; Die Laube D214; Wiegenlied ("Schlafe, süsser holder Knabe" D498*
Birgid Steinberger (soprano)*; Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone); Ulrich Eisenlohr (fortepiano)
Recorded at Bayrischer Rundfunk Studio 2, Munich, Germany, from 30 November to 5th December, 2004
Naxos 8.557569 [62:27]
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The Naxos "Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition" is beginning to near its end. It will be the second ever, only preceded by Hyperion’s edition, quite recently reissued as a jumbo-box. They are not quite comparable since Hyperion arranged the songs thematically while Naxos present them according to poets. In the reissue box Hyperion group them chronologically, which means there is a mix of singers and acoustics. Both sets have their ups and downs even though the Hyperion may be the safer bet. There are many good things in the Naxos edition which seems to have been luckier with the male singers than the female. The present disc illustrates this. Like several other discs in the series this has two singers sharing the space.

In a way the juxtaposition is unfair to the soprano, having to be judged against one of the greatest Lieder-singers of the last twenty years. Wolfgang Holzmair is still in the top of the trade. His is a true baritone, a manly voice of medium size, rounded tone all through the range, no sharp edges, and a natural skill – and willingness – to scale down and sing softly. What really makes him stand out as an ideal Lieder-singer is his phrasing; his ability to find the natural ebb-and-flow of the music. Every phrase sounds so right and always seems on the way somewhere. Take almost any song at random and "Yes, this is the way it should be!" Die Mainacht (track 10) and Am ersten Maimorgen (track 11) are good examples. There is also a lightness, an effortlessness, that is the hallmark of all great Lieder-singers (Die Knabenzeit track 16).

Set against Holzmair soprano Birgid Steinberger seems one-dimensional, both in her interpretations and when it comes to the actual vocal qualities. She has a bright, soubrettish voice with a tendency towards squalliness. It is also rather monochrome. The high notes can be strained and vibrato-laden. It seems that she has to struggle with each phrase, each note. The shrillness also masks the care with which she approaches the songs and the suspicion of a beat affects the line of her phrases. At least this is the impression one gets from the first tracks. I don’t know in what order the songs were recorded, but since the sessions were spread over almost a week it is quite possible that she was in various form during this period. An die Nachtigall (track 12) finds her more relaxed, more expressive and with better voice control. Stolberg’s Abendlied (track 20) is also one of her better efforts, inwardly sung. Here she can sing soft phrases with practically no vibrato, but it could be more varied, since the simple strophic setting makes it feel overlong. She brings the disc to an attractive end, giving a simple and sensitive reading of probably the most well-known song in this recital, the anonymous Wiegenlied ("Schlafe, süsser holder Knabe"). This is good Lieder-singing of considerable beauty. I wish she could have accomplished more of that kind. Then this would have been a thoroughly recommendable disc. As it is, it’s a matter of swings and roundabouts, redeemed to a large extent by the singing of Wolfgang Holzmair. For a fiver or so this is reason enough to buy it. Another reason is the piano-playing of Ulrich Eisenlohr, or rather fortepiano-playing. For the "Poets of Sensibility" volumes he has chosen the predecessor of the concert-grand thus coming closer to the sound Schubert would have expected: lighter and more transparent. There are few established masterpieces here, but since this is middle-period Schubert, everything is of some interest and completists need it. They should know that they will have to search in vain for the texts and translations in the booklet. Instead they have to be downloaded from the internet.

Göran Forsling

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


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