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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition 20 - Poets of Sensibility, Volume 3: Der Tod und das Mädchen D.531 [02:22], Der Leidende (3rd version) D.432 [01:48], Totengräberlied D.44 [02:03], Lied/Die Mutter Erde D.788 [03:50], Der Leidende D.432 (2nd version) D.432 [01:44], Die Nonne D.208 [08:25], Täglich zu singen D.533 [01:38], Klage D.371 [02:49], Stimme der Liebe D.412 [01:54], Seufzer D.198 [01:09], An eine Quelle D.530 [01:52], An die Apfelbäume, wo ich Julien erblickte D.197 [02:38], Die frühe Liebe D.430 [02:04], An den Mond D.193 [03:06], Abendlied D.499 [02:53], Klage D.436 [01:41], Auf den Tod einer Nachtigall (1st setting, fragment) D.201, Auf den Tod einer Nachtigall (2nd setting )D.399, Auf dem Wasser zu singen D.774 [03:55], Lied in der Abwesenheit (fragment) D.416 [01:43], Der Liebende D.207 [01:41], Minnelied D.429 [01:54], Der Traum D.213 [02:03], Seligkeit D.433 [02:12]
Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone), Ulrich Eisenlohr (Hammerflugel)
rec. 30 November – 5 December, Bayerische Rundfunk Studio 2, Munich, Germany
NAXOS 8.557568 [60:59]

Naxos’s ongoing Schubert-Lied-Edition takes off in two new directions here. As always, it is masterminded by Ulrich Eisenlohr who, as often but not invariably, also provides the accompaniments. As always, too, it is based on a particular group of poets, the poets of Empfindsamkeit; Eisenlohr’s own notes, excellently translated by the indefatigable Keith Anderson, give chapter and verse. It is an interesting programme of mostly little-known songs - with two very obvious exceptions - including a couple of fragments that just peter out in mid phrase. For a concert, I suppose these could be rounded off with a piano postlude based on material from the song, but for a series like this I am sure Eisenlohr is right to "tell it as it is". The songs seem to have been arranged, not so much on the principal of contrasting each one with its neighbours, but to create an overall emotional curve, beginning with mainly dark and gloomy ones, leading to the dramatic ballad "Die Nonne", and then moving upwards towards happiness, light and jollity. It’s an interesting idea, though in effect I found myself thinking during the first part that there were too many gloomy ones in a row, and then later on that there were too many light-hearted ones, though I began to appreciate the ordering as I came to realize it was deliberate.

So far, however, the series has made use of young singers from the German-speaking world, many of them as yet little known. There have been some encouraging discoveries, but some severe disappointments too, leaving the impression that the Hyperion series was worth the extra outlay (now it has been boxed all together I’m not sure that there is an extra outlay, if you have the ready cash to buy them in one fell swoop). For the present record, however, Eisenlohr has enlisted the services of one of the most celebrated of today’s baritones specializing in lieder: the Austrian Wolfgang Holzmair. Regular readers know that I am not easily swayed by mere reputations, but I can happily report that in this case Holzmair’s beautiful tone, perfect intonation and emission, clarity of diction and natural musicianship prove that his fame is entirely deserved. Since he also provides a range of colouring and characterization – snarling in the bitter-comic "Gravedigger’s Song" ("Totengräberlied"), black and menacing in the grisly "Die Nonne", soft and honeyed in the happier songs later in the recital – this is lieder singing as good as it comes.

So far in this series, at least as regards the issues that have come my way, a modern piano has always been used. The second new direction taken by this latest volume is the use of a fortepiano or "Hammerflügel". In his note Eisenlohr remarks that "it will be quickly be noticed how different the sound spectrum, the colours and the dynamic balance are, compared with the usual modern concert grand piano". Unfortunately, while stating that it is "the ‘correct’ instrument for historically accurate performance of the music of Schubert’s time", he does not actually tell us what it is (a restored original? A replica?). In many ways it does not differ from the modern piano as much as many fortepianos do; it is lighter in the bass and has a consistently bright sound, but I quickly found myself acclimatising to it and accepting it as a fairly "normal" piano sound. Certainly, when I made a few spot-checks with recordings played by Gerald Moore and Graham Johnson I was immediately aware of a greater mellowness and depth, but they are presumably playing Steinways, while this instrument is recognizably the ancestor of a mid-20th century small Bösendorfer. It brings a specifically Viennese flavour to the recital.

My one concern, and I don’t know whether this is an effect produced by the piano or the pianist, is that it remains resolutely full and bright. It may not have the grand fortes of the modern piano but it would appear not to have the delicate soft shades either. This results in the one performance here which I found unsatisfactory. Certainly, if a pianist played "Auf dem Wasser zu singen" with such relentlessly full tone on a modern piano I should think him deplorably heavy-handed. Since Eisenlohr has never struck me as heavy-handed on his records with a modern piano I have to suppose that the instrument itself is responsible. And yet he does obtain more delicacy elsewhere and I do get the impression that he is aiming, at a slower tempo than usual, at a grandiose effect more in keeping with Liszt’s transcription of this song than Schubert’s original. He also indulges in heavy rubato in the introduction but alas, he is in good company; if any pianist has matched Edwin Fischer’s sublime simplicity here, I have yet to hear him.

Still, this is only one song, and it is one which most collectors will already have in alternative versions anyway. For the rest, an enthusiastic recommendation. I made just a few comparisons. In "Seligkeit" Fischer-Dieskau/Moore are more urgent and DF-D shows imagination in varying his dynamics for the three stanzas. He is more admirable than lovable, though, beside Holzmair’s relaxed charm. Similarly, Lott/Johnson, at about the same relaxed tempo as Holzmair, produce a beautifully hushed last stanza which nonetheless sounds a little "arty" compared with Holzmair’s straightforward simplicity. I think I would prefer Holzmair to either. Holzmair and Eisenlohr also find more in "An die Quelle" than do Mathis and Johnson in the Hyperion edition. Altogether, those who have not been following the Naxos edition, either because they have the Hyperion one or because they want only a selection of Schubert lieder on their shelves, should investigate this.

One minor musical/technical query. I had always supposed (and most singers dealing in this repertoire seem to agree) that little groups of fioriture such as those on the word "Schattengang" in "An die Apfelbäume" are, in such romantic music, to be sung as smoothly and mellifluously as possible; Holzmair instead separates each note, almost aspirating them, rather the way Cecilia Bartoli sings her agilità in baroque music (more reasonably in that context). Is this a weak link in Holzmair’s technical armoury, or does he have reason to believe this manner of execution is the correct one?

Regarding Naxos’s current policy of providing a booklet with detailed notes but directing you to their website for texts and translations, I have already had my say. If you do pull down the texts and then put on the disc, remember to disconnect from internet if you don’t want to run up a bill for twenty or so minutes’ internet connection before the computer disconnects on its own account.

Christopher Howell

see also review by Anne Ozorio (January Bargain of the Month) For reviews of other releases in this series,
see the Naxos Deutsche Schubert-Lied Edition page

 

 



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