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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Abendbilder: Bei dir allein [02:08], Abendbilder [05:42], Himmelsfunken [04:21], Dass sie hier gewesen [02:45], Drang in die Ferne [03:44], Am Fenster [03:24], Auf der Bruck [03:30], Des Fischers Liebesglück [05:40], Der Winterabend [07:31], Das Zügenglöcklein [04:43], Alinde [04:15], Fischerweise [02:52], Im Abendrot [03:47], Der Musensohn [02:10], Du bist die Ruh [04:50], Greisengesang [05:08], Wilkommen und Abscheid [03:31]
Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Gerold Huber (piano)
rec. 18-21 September 2005, Hochschule für Musik und Theater, München, Grosser Konzertsaal
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876 777162 [70:02]


Iíve said it once and Iíll say it again: Christian Gerhaher is incredibly fortunate to have teamed up with such a pianist as Gerold Huber. Iíll just give one example, though each Lied here could yield its separate tale. On the face of it the pianist hasnít much to do in "Himmelsfunken" except play chords. But Huber doesnít play them, he seemingly discovers them one by one, and by giving each its special weight, balance and colour, he creates a panoply of variegated cloud passing over us such as Debussy needed an entire orchestra to evoke.

I repeat, though, that everywhere in this programme Huber explores the inner detail and the psychological meaning of Schubertís apparently innocent piano writing. With a partner like this, the singerís work is half done.

But only half done, of course. It would be a sad embarrassment if such artistry at the piano found the singer unresponsive. Gerhaher has a most beautiful voice which does not lose its quality as a result of his search for characterisation, expression and the right weight for each word. This is more interventionist singing than that I was recently admiring by the baritone Wolfgang Holzmair on Naxos, yet it is done with such naturalness that it can only heighten our appreciation of the music. Lastly, the two artists work in perfect dialogue. This really is lieder singing of the highest order.

And the artists have not made things easy for themselves Ė or indeed for us Ė by choosing an extremely intense programme. You will have to wait a good while before hearing any trace of the light-hearted Schubert of popular fame, or before they concede us or song or two which is at all well known. And when those come, "Fischerweise" and "Der Musensohn" are a little more pensive than usual, lively but aware of the transient values below. "Du bist die Ruh", a cruel test of the singerís control, is superbly done.

A common theme in present-day music criticism, implied if not always spoken aloud when dealing with long-dead pianists, conductors and opera singers, is that "they donít make íem like that any more". Yet I think no one will deny that ours is a golden age of lieder singing. Why should this be?

I suggest that a real understanding of Schubert is a post-war acquisition. Though a few brave souls in earlier years sang the three great cycles and even played the last piano sonatas, Schubert was basically seen as a purveyor of lovely tunes. In the world of the Lied it was Fischer-Dieskau who taught us that there was a whole range of undiscovered music here; it may also be relevant that the post-war world has come to terms with Mahler, with the result that we can see more clearly where Schubert was heading. Artists of the generation of Gerhaher and Huber have therefore grown up in a musical world where Schubertís real stature was properly known, where Schubert as a whole was part of the musical landscape. They have a familiarity with his music which even the greatest pre-war artists couldnít have.

This beautifully recorded disc comes with an excellent presentation, texts and English translations. Amid recurrent elegies for the death of the classical record industry, the corpse is putting up quite a struggle. A few more issues like this and we will be wondering what the fuss was about. Just one black spot. Why no Deutsch numbers?

Lastly, may I remind readers of Gerhaher and Huberís Schumann disc, also on RCA Red Seal. review

Christopher Howell



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