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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Poets of Sensibility Vol. 4: Zufreidenheit; Das Lied vom Reifen; An die Natur; Morgenlied; Blumenlied; Pflicht und Liebe; Erntelied; Zufriedenheit; Mailied; Die Mainacht; Am ersten Maimorgen; An die nachtigall; Daphne am Bach; Frühlingslied; Phidile; Die Knabenzeit; An den Mond; An die nachtigall; Klage um Ali Bey; Abendlied; Winterlied; An Grabe Anselmos; Die Laube; Wiegenlied.
Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone), Birgid Steinberger (soprano), Ulrich Eisenlohr (fortepiano)
rec. Munich, 30 November-5 December 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557569 [62:27]
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This is the second of Naxosís discs with Wolfgang Holzmair. It was recorded at the same time as its companion (Naxos8.557568 ) but is issued separately; Iím not sure why. This pair of discs is head and shoulders better than the rest of the series. They are most certainly worthy of being marketed as a stand-alone one day, and the choice of material is unusual. Naxos is onto something with Holzmair. His career has not been quite as spectacular as some of his contemporaries, despite his being well respected as an artist. Someone at Naxos should really think about doing a joint venture with him. Since his interests lie in enterprising, unusual repertoire, particularly by Austrian composers, it would be a project that might benefit them both..

As with the earlier disc, this one features poets of the Göttingen Hainbund, Matthias Claudius, Ludwig Hölty and Leopold Graf zu Stolberg. They took their inspiration from a long Klopstock poem in which three poets discuss ancient Greece, Teutonic legend, art, poetry and the natural world. Their vision was to create an idealized poetry that would integrate the noble philosophy of the past with a rapturous love of Nature. In this music, Schubert is harking back to the classical, idealized image of eighteenth century Arcadia. He sets the long strophic lines of the poetry with simple elegance Ė there is no passionate 19th century anguish here. Much could perhaps be made of the pianoforte, but anyone familiar with the large body of Schubertís music already available transcribed for the instrument might consider that a non-issue. This isnít Winterreise, after all - though the pianoforte version of that cycle by Staier and Prégardien is wonderful, creative and controversial. Eisenlohrís playing here is bright and straightforward, in perfect harmony with the nature of the songs, which are naturally more in accord with the texts which hover between the Classical and the early Romantic.

What makes this recording is the quality of the singing. Holzmairís airy, lyrical style is just right. Both the first and second versions of Zufriedenheit are here, Holzmair adjusting his approach; each one slightly different. The first version he sings with warm geniality, the second with slightly more formality. After all, the message is a carefree "Was gibtís mir Geld und Ehr?" (what do I need of gold and honours). Later, the genre song Klage um Ali Bey is a perfect vehicle for showing Holzmairís gifts. He reflects the protagonistís steady footsteps, themselves reflected in the rhythms of the piano part. He colours the repeated phrase, first firmly, then gently, with great effect. The refrain "Mensch und Krokodil", has droll charm, in accord with the setting, if not the gruesome story behind the poem.

The discovery on this disc is the soprano Birgid Steinberger. Sheís an experienced singer, but again one whose career has not had major recognition. Her voice is clear and pure, yet filled with sweetness and warmth. Listen to the way she sings the phrase "weiss und zierlich, zart und kraus " in Das Lied vom Reifen Ė she really "is" white and dainty, tender and decorative. Itís possible to do a direct comparative listening between Steinberger and Eisenlohr with the famous recording with Argenta and Melvyn Tan (also with fortepiano), made some fifteen years ago. Tan, who was a great fortepianist, plays more slowly and with more restraint, making the most of his pianoís delicacy. Argentaís bell-like tones beautifully shape the pattern of the phrase liegt und schläft an meinem Herzen. In the final line, "singt mir den Amor nicht wach", she soars magnificently on "Amor." Itís unfair to compare Steinberger with Argenta , who is an infinitely more polished singer with a far greater range. The real contrast is between Tan and Eisenlohr, whose dominant, solid style is so very different from Tanís. Eisenlohr may produce a brighter sound, but itís at the expense of Tanís chromatic lyricism which celebrates the instrumentís subtle character. Tan and Argenta together are an unbeatable combination, showing just how wonderful the combination of high voice and fortepiano can be in Schubert. However, since that recording is not nearly as easily available as this one, the Naxos version will get a bigger audience.

Anne Ozorio

see also reviews by Goran Forsling and Christopher Howell


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


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