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RECORDING OF THE MONTH

 

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Songs by Schubertís Friends and Contemporaries
Carl BANCK (1809-1889)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Ludwig BERGER (1777-1839)
Jeannette Antonie BÜRDE (b. 1799)
Moritz von DIETRICHSTEIN (1775-1864)
Maximilian EBERWEIN (1775-1831)
Stephan FRANZ (1785-1855)
Adalbert GYROWETZ (1760-1853)
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Carl LOEWE (1796-1869)
Ferdinand HILLER (1811-1885)
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Anselm HÜTTENBRENNER (1794-1868)
Conradin KREUTZER (1780-1849)
Nikolaus von KRUFFT (1779-1818)
Franz Paul LACHNER (1803-1890)
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Fanny MENDELSSOHN (1805-1847)
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)
Sigismund NEUKOMM (1778-1858)
Johann Vesque von PÜTTLINGEN (1803-1883)
Benedict RANDHARTINGER (1802-1893)
Johann Friedrich REICHHARDT (1752-1814)
Louise REICHARDT (1779-1826)
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Antonio SALIERI (1750-1825)
Franz SCHUBERT of Dresden (1768-1827)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Simon SECHTER (1788-1867)
Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)
Václav Jan Křtitel TOMAäEK (1774-1850)
Johann Karl UNGER (1771-1836)
Karoline UNGER-SABATIER (1803-1877)

Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Joseph WEIGL (1766-1846)
August Heinrich von WEYRAUCH (1788-1865)
Carl Friedrich ZELTER (1758-1832)
Johann Rudolf ZUMSTEEG (1760-1802)
A full track listing is provided at the end of the review

Susan Gritton (soprano); Stella Doufexis (soprano); Ann Murray (mezzo); Mark Padmore (tenor); Gerald Finley (baritone); Graham Johnson (piano)
rec. All Saints, East Finchley, London, August 2001, March, October 2004. DDD
HYPERION CDJ33051/3 [3 CDs: 78:25 + 77:02 + 78:17]

I collected the entire 37-volume Hyperion Schubert Song Edition as the discs were issued between 1988 and 2000. Whilst this gave me immense pleasure at the time one wholly unexpected consequence was that I have had to wait a little while before enjoying this present set. This was because when Hyperion re-issued the whole Schubert Edition in a boxed set they included this three-disc appendix in the collection of 40 CDs. There was then a short delay before the present set could be purchased separately. Now it is available as a delightful and very instructive, not to say substantial appendix to the main collection.

It may seem odd to discuss the presentation of the set before commenting on the music itself but the original series of Schubert discs set new standards in terms of documentation. Collectors will be reassured to learn that these extremely high standards have been maintained. This set comes with three separate booklets, one for each disc. The booklets, written by Graham Johnson, contain a track-by-track commentary on the songs along with the texts and translations. Each composer Ė and there are forty of them Ė is accorded a brief biographical note, some of which are very necessary indeed since the composers concerned are obscure, to say the least. Johnsonís notes combine his usual perspicacity with valuable factual information, some of it significant, some of it more arcane. In truth, each booklet is a work of scholarship in its own right. Most valuably, in cases where Schubert himself set the same poem, Johnson provides a cross-reference, giving not only the Deutsch number but also indicating on which of the thirty-seven original CDs Schubertís own setting(s) may be found. My only quibble with the documentation is that these cross-references are in minuscule type, which I found very challenging to read.

The three CDs contain eighty-one songs, the great majority of which will be new to most collectors; they certainly were to me. With such a vast array of music itís impossible to comment on each song so what follows are some notes on a mere selection of them.

Volume 1

The set opens with a vocal quartet by Haydn, which is pretty but rather slight. Not for the last time in the collection will we find that the music by the Big Name composers is of rather less interest than some of the items by long-forgotten peers. Johann Friedrich Reichardt is one such. Incredibly, he wrote over 1500 songs, including some 150 to words by Goethe, four of which are included here. I liked the first of these, Sehnsucht. Also of interest is Rastlose Liebe, which proves to be a strong, strenuous setting, which tests the singer. The same text crops up later on this same CD in an ardent setting by Carl Friedrich Zelter

In fact there are a good number of instances in this set where one can compare settings by different composers Ė and by Schubert, of course Ė of the same text. Rastlose Liebe is a case in point and thereís yet another version of it, by Maximilian Eberwein, in Volume Two. Perhaps most intriguing of all are the various responses to Erlkönig. Schubertís setting is well-nigh unsurpassable and that impression is reinforced by the various offerings by other hands in this collection. Reichardtís version is quite good. It canít stand too close a comparison with that by Schubert but Gerald Finley makes a good case for it, investing it with a good deal of drama. Reichardt shows a particular turn of individuality in the way he sets the Erl Kingís words; the singer sings these in a monotone while the piano continues the melodic burden underneath By comparison the setting by Zelter is pretty weak Ė I think he handicaps himself by choosing a major key Ė though Finley gives it his best shot, notably in the penultimate stanza. Further versions of Erlkönig await us later on in the anthology. Thereís a setting by Louis Spohr in Volume Two, which is interesting chiefly by virtue of the inclusion of a virtuoso violin obbligato part, which is used, in Graham Johnsonís words, "to represent the beguilingly sweet and unearthly voice of the Erlkönig". Most famous of all is the setting by Carl Loewe (Vol. 3), which, by pretty common consent, is the only one that presents a serious challenge to Schubertís hegemony. Once again this setting is allotted to Finley, who invests it with proper grip and dramatic atmosphere. Heís especially electrifying in Loeweís last two stanzas. Whatís particularly revealing, comparing all these settings, is that no-one succeeded in delivering the pay-off of the final line Ė ĎIn seinen Armen das Kind war totí Ė with anything like the dramatic skill shown by Schubert.

Reicheltís daughter, Louise, also gets a brief look-in with her Aus Novalis Hymnen an die Nacht, which proves to be a fluent, graceful song and a gift to Gerald Finleyís lyrical side. One of the longest items in the whole anthology is Johann Rudolf Zumsteegís Die Erwartung. Mark Padmoreís light, easy delivery of this song is a delight as far as it goes. However, at over ten minutes itís a long listen and by the end Iíd come to wonder if both the setting and, perhaps, Padmoreís singing of it were not just a bit too restrained.

Thereís a group of five songs by Zelter, all of them settings of Goethe, who was a longstanding and close friend. As Iíve already commented, his Erlkönig is a somewhat pallid affair. However, Erster Verlust is a graceful and charming little song and Susan Gritton spins out its rather lovely phrases delightfully. Itís followed by Um Mitternacht, which Graham Johnson rightly describes as a "gravely beautiful" song. Apparently, of all the settings of his poetry that Goethe ever heard this was his favourite and one can understand why. Zelter catches the mood of the verses very aptly and he produced a most attractive song, which Ann Murray does quite beautifully.

Itís mildly interesting to hear a song by Schubertís namesake from Dresden. In the notes Graham Johnson relates that in April 1817 the Dresden Schubert wrote an intemperate letter to a music publisher who had inadvertently returned the manuscript of Erlkönig D328 to the Dresden Schubert instead of to the songís actual composer. Schubert of Dresden wrote: "I beg to state the cantata [sic] was never composed by me. I shall retain the same in my possession in order to learn, if possible, who sent you that sort of trash in such an impolite manner, and also to discover the fellow who has thus misused my name." Listen to his rather tame offering here, Die Lebensgefährten, and you may share my reaction: how dare he!

Beethoven is represented by his celebrated cycle, An die ferne Geliebte, which was revolutionary in its day on account of the linkage of all the songs. The singer on this occasion is Mark Padmore and, for me, he does well. I relished the lovely, easy delivery. His voice is quite light, and I welcome that, but when itís required he has a touch of steel in his timbre. I especially appreciated the way in which he spins a long, satisfying line in the first and last songs. Johnson is ever a perceptive partner, and pianist and singer between them ensure that the third song, Leichte Segler in den Höhen, trips along very nicely. Before the cycle Gerald Finley sings another Beethoven song, Abendlied untern gestirnten Himmel. I canít recall previously hearing this late Beethoven song Ė it was published in 1820 Ė but itís very impressive. As Johnson remarks, itís music of "unaccountable majesty" and in Gerald Finley it finds just the right interpreter.

Volume 2

Yet another unfamiliar composer opens Volume Two in the shape of the Bohemian, VŠclav Jan Křtitel Tomaöek. He was another significant composer of Goethe settings Ė 41 in all Ė and the first of the two selected for inclusion here, Meeres Stille, is rather impressive. Itís a dark-toned setting even if it appears calm on the surface. This volume also includes two settings of Goetheís Kennst du das Land. The setting by Nikolaus von Krufft is attractive but the version by Spohr is more inventive, especially as Spohr rather cunningly disguises the strophic nature of his song.

No less than seven songs constitute a group by Ludwig Berger and these are particularly interesting as they form, in effect, something of a forerunner of Die schöne Müllerin. In brief, Berger was part of an artistic circle in Berlin, the members of which decided to devise a Liederspiel on the subject of the Maid of the Mill. Some contributed poems and Berger composed all the music. Wilhelm Müller was a member of this group and he penned several poems. Berger wrote ten songs in all, of which five were to texts by Müller; all of the Müller settings, plus two others, are recorded here. All this took place in 1816. It was not until five years later that Müller included these poems and many new ones within his full cycle, which was eventually set by Schubert. Bergerís songs, which are mostly strophic, are straightforward, attractive pieces. Although designed for performance by amateurs thereís nothing amateurish or condescending about the music and Der Müller is quite ardent. In general those settings which would later come into "competition" with Schubertís pale by comparison with the subsequent masterpieces. Bergerís songs nevertheless sound grateful to sing and afford genuine pleasure to the listener. I was especially impressed with Müllers trockne Blumen, which Schubert, of course, entitled Trockne Blumen in his own cycle. Bergerís version is a dark setting and itís on a deeper level than the other pieces of his that are included here. The song features a restless, troubled piano accompaniment over which the singer has an anxious line. Ann Murray sings it expressively.

Mention must also be made of Sigismund Neukomm, who is represented by three of his Sechs Gesänge, Op. 10. These songs all possess grace, poise and melodic felicity. They sound to lie easily and naturally on the voice, especially as performed by Stella Doufexis. Sehnsucht could easily be taken for a song by Schubert himself. Just as Berger set poems later used by Schubert in Die schöne Müllerin, so Conradin Kreutzer used poems that Schubert included in Winterreise and itís unclear which composer got to the poems first. Three of the poems in question are included here in Kreutzerís versions, all sung by Mark Padmore. I particularly liked Der Lindenbaum, which has a most appealing long vocal line against a rippling piano part. Thereís a pleasing lilt to Frühlingstraum, while in Die Post great play is made of a suggestion of a posthorn call in the accompaniment.

The Weber setting is something of a curiosity. It features a fiendish piano part, which presumably suggests the din of the battlefield. Unfortunately, even if that was Weberís intention, the piano writing draws far too much attention to itself. Some may find the song operatically dramatic. Iím afraid I found it hectoring. As a fascinating aside, Graham Johnson tells us that his copy of this song was once owned by Robert Schumann.

Volume 3

Schumann is himself represented on this disc but the chosen song, Lied für XXX is not one of his more notable inspirations, I feel. Fittingly, itís preceded by single offerings from Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn. Felixís song is a typically beautiful little thing but I was even more taken with his sisterís composition. Die frühen Gräber is quite touching Ė "gravely beautiful", as Johnson avers. The poise and dignity in the music are delightful.

This particular disc opens with a song by Meyerbeer but the same text is set, as Das Fischermädchen, by the much more obscure Franz Paul Lachner and, frankly, I greatly prefer the setting by the less famous composer, which I find more inventive. The Meyerbeer song is followed by one by Rossini and this is, to my mind, another example in this collection of the more exalted names shining less brightly than their less famous fellow composers. The Rossini piece is almost an operatic parody of the worst kind. Rossini simply overwhelms a fairly modest piece of verse with absurdly ornate music.

Carl Loewe features on this disc. As well as his Erlkönig, already mentioned, thereís a setting for four voices, Gesang der Geister, which is an interesting listen. The piece opens and closes with all four voices singing together. In between the soprano, tenor and bass have solo stanzas. This is rather an impressive piece. Benedict Randhartinger composed over two thousand works, it seems, of which some 400 were songs. Graham Johnson describes his Suleika as "sumptuous", and it is certainly an ambitious setting. Randhartingerís other offering here is Rastloses Wanderern, which is, in Johnsonís view, "one of the best Schubertian imitations ever penned." I know what he means. Gerald Finley sings it splendidly.

Karoline Unger-Sabatier merits a footnote in history as the mezzo soloist in the first performance of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony. She retired from singing when she married and she then took up composition. Her Frülingsglaube is a slight piece but Johnson is right to refer to its "simple but amiably fluent style".

Franz Paul Lachner was quite close to Schubert. His Ständchen is a fine, dignified song and Iíve already drawn attention to Das Fischermädchen. Herbst is notable for the addition of a cello obbligato and this instrument and the piano are used inventively to suggest the gusts of the autumn winds. Johann Vesque von Püttlingen seems to have been a most remarkable man in all sorts of ways. Three very good songs by him have been included here. Johnson points out that in his day von Püttlingenís music was highly regarded in Vienna and on the evidence of what we hear in this collection then Iíd agree his music merits re-evaluation.

To end the set we hear Der Leiermann by Carl Banck, a setting of the selfsame poem that Schubert had set so unforgettably in Winterreise. This song by Banck dates from 1838/9 and itís worth quoting what Johnson has to say about it. "Banck sets Müllerís text again with an unashamed bow to the originalÖ.This shows how Schubertís music was perceived by those composers who were neither his friends, nor true contemporaries Ė it was now a fact of life, an imperishable given, a classic. The image of the frozen hurdy-gurdy player from Winterreise was one that now belonged safely, if disturbingly, to the history of song; as such it is an appropriate emblem with which to end this set of discs." That, if I may say so, sums up the care, scholarship and discernment that have clearly gone into this entire project.

******************

How to sum up such an enterprise? Well, as youíll probably have gathered from the preceding comments all the singers distinguish themselves and their efforts are all the more praiseworthy since I imagine that each of them had to learn virtually every one of their allotted songs specially. It may be invidious to do so but I feel I must single out Gerald Finley for special praise. His singing is consistently on the highest level of technical and interpretative accomplishment and all his performances here serve to boost still further his reputation as one of the most exciting and rewarding singers of his generation. But let me hasten to add that all the singers here will give enormous pleasure.

The presiding genius is, of course, Graham Johnson and this set is yet another instance of his ability to be the defining presence in a collection of song performances without ever upstaging his singers. His seemingly unrivalled knowledge of the repertoire and his great artistry provide the foundations for this whole enterprise. His accompaniments are always just right, though he never draws attention away from the vocal line Ė unless that was the composerís intention. But his contribution goes far deeper than that. Iíve already commented on his magnificent booklet notes. The great scholarship and boundless enthusiasm for the song repertoire that are displayed in his writing are the starting points for an enterprise such as this. How does one man come to know so much about repertoire, much of it obscure to say the least? Itís evident from some of the comments in the notes that itís been a challenge in itself simply to track down copies of quite a few of the songs included here. It would have been so easy to have sat back after completing the Schubert Edition itself, but thatís clearly not Johnsonís way. He has greatly enhanced the value of that Edition by giving us this fascinating appendix. Only Johnson Ė and Hyperion Ė one feels, would have had the vision and the enterprise to undertake a project such as this.

It would be idle to pretend that this set gives us a whole stream of rediscovered masterpieces. Thatís not the intention. What the set does do, however, is to set Schubert and his achievement in context. With the exception of An die ferne Geliebte thereís not really anything in this set that matches Schubert at his greatest. But, then, one must remember that although the original 37 CDs revealed to us many songs by Schubert that deserved to be better known than they are, they also included songs that showed that even his inspiration could be uneven. This new set contains many very enjoyable songs and more than a few that are fine pieces of music. What the set also does, however, is make us realise yet again the scale of Schubertís genius as compared with most of his contemporaries and the scale of his achievement as a composer of lieder.

This is an absolutely first class set. Itís most rewarding and stimulating to listen to and I recommend it urgently to all lovers of lieder as a truly indispensable purchase. Bravo, Graham Johnson! Bravo, Hyperion!

John Quinn

 
Full Tracklisting

CD 1 [78:25]
Der Greis, Hob XXVc:5 Haydn (Gleim) Susan Gritton, Ann Murray, Mark Padmore, Gerald Finley [3:13]
Sehnsucht Reichardt (Goethe) Susan Gritton, Gerald Finley [1:32]
Rastlose Liebe Reichardt (Goethe) Mark Padmore [1:07]
Erlkönig Reichardt (Goethe) Gerald Finley [1:31]
Monolog der Iphegenia Reichardt (Goethe) Susan Gritton [8:50]
Aus Novalis Hymnen an die Nacht Reichardt (Novalis/Hardenberg) Gerald Finley [2:14]
Ich denke dein Salieri (Matthisson) Ann Murray [2:10]
Die Erwartung Zumsteeg (Schiller) Mark Padmore [10:24]
Thekla ĄDes Mädchens Klage" Zumsteeg (Schiller) Susan Gritton [2:32]
Erlkönig Zelter (Goethe) Gerald Finley [2:20]
Erster Verlust Zelter (Goethe) Susan Gritton [2:56]
Um Mitternacht Zelter (Goethe) Ann Murray [3:57]
Klage Harfenspieler III Zelter (Goethe) Gerald Finley [2:26]
Rastlose Liebe Zelter (Goethe) Mark Padmore [2:23]
Die Einsame Gyrowetz (Pannasch) Susan Gritton [3:21]
Wenn sie mich nur von weitem sieht Weigl (Castelli) Mark Padmore [2:28]
Die Lebensgefährten Schubert of Dresden (Anonymous) Ann Murray [1:09]
Lied der Desdemona Vogl (Shakespeare tr. Anonymous) Ann Murray [1:29]
Abendlied unterm gestirntem Himmel, WoO150 Beethoven (Goeble) Gerald Finley [4:33]
An die ferne Geliebte, Op 98 No 1: Auf dem Hügel sitz: ich, spähend Beethoven (Jeitteles) Mark Padmore [2:45]
An die ferne Geliebte, Op 98 No 2: Wo die Berge so blau Beethoven (Jeitteles) Mark Padmore [1:46]
An die ferne Geliebte, Op 98 No 3: Leichte Segler in den Höhen Beethoven (Jeitteles) Mark Padmore [1:50]
An die ferne Geliebte, Op 98 No 4: Diese Wolken in den Höhen Beethoven (Jeitteles) Mark Padmore [1:06]
An die ferne Geliebte, Op 98 No 5: Es kehret der Maien, es blühet die Au Beethoven (Jeitteles) Mark Padmore [2:24]
An die ferne Geliebte, Op 98 No 6: Nimm sie hin denn Diese Lieder Beethoven (Jeitteles) Mark Padmore [3:56]
Die Nachtigall Unger (Unger) Susan Gritton [2:15]
CD 2 [77:02]
Meeres Stille, Op 61 No 3 Tomaöek (Goethe) Susan Gritton, Ann Murray, Gerald Finley [2:45]
Heidenröslein, Op 53 No 1 Tomaöek (Goethe) Susan Gritton [2:33]
Rastlose Liebe Eberwein (Goethe) Gerald Finley [1:31]
Wonne der Wehmut Dietrichstein (Goethe) Stella Doufexis [1:06]
Lied aus Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre Krufft (Goethe) Stella Doufexis [3:18]
Des Müllers Wanderlied Berger (Müller) Mark Padmore [1:55]
Müllers Blumen Berger (Müller) Mark Padmore [2:32]
Am Maienfeste ĄDer Jäger an die Müllerin" Berger (Hensel) Gerald Finley [1:51]
Der Müller Berger (Müller) Mark Padmore [1:52]
Rose Die Müllerin Berger (Hedwig) Susan Gritton [2:15]
Müllers trockne Blumen Berger (Müller) Mark Padmore [2:41]
Des Baches Lied Berger (Müller) Ann Murray [4:32]
Zur Logenfeier Hummel (Goethe) Mark Padmore [2:32]
Trost in Tränen Neukomm (Goethe) Stella Doufexis [3:41]
Klage an den Mond Neukomm (Hölty) Stella Doufexis [2:17]
Sehnsucht Neukomm (Rochlitz) Stella Doufexis [3:06]
Neun Wanderlieder von Uhland, Op 34 No 6: Winterreise Kreutzer (Uhland) Gerald Finley [1:32]
Neun Wanderlieder von Uhland, Op 34 No 7: Abreise Kreutzer (Uhland) Gerald Finley [1:20]
Neun Wanderlieder von Uhland, Op 34 No 9: Heimkehr Kreutzer (Uhland) Gerald Finley [1:41]
Ländliche Lieder No 4: Der Lindenbaum Kreutzer (Müller) Mark Padmore [3:06]
Ländliche Lieder No 5: Frühlingstraum Kreutzer (Müller) Mark Padmore [2:04]
Die Post, Op 76 No 6 Kreutzer (Müller) Mark Padmore [2:23]
Der Pilgrim Kreutzer (Schiller) Ann Murray [3:30]
Mignons Lied ĄKennst du das Land?", Op 37 No 1 Spohr (Goethe) Susan Gritton [2:52]
Erlkönig, Op 154 No 4 Spohr (Goethe) Gerald Finley, Marianne Thorsen [3:03]
Abschied nach Wien 1813 Franz (Körner) Mark Padmore [2:15]
Gebet während der Schlacht, Op 41 No 1 Weber (Körner) Gerald Finley [4:00]
Adieu Weyrauch (Anonymous) Susan Gritton [3:20]
Gute Nacht Sechter (Leonhardt) Ann Murray [3:05]
CD 3 [78:17]
Komm! Meyerbeer (Heine) Gerald Finley [1:09]
Beltà crudele :Amori scendete: Rossini (Santo-Magno) Ann Murray [3:32]
Die Seefahrt Hüttenbrenner (Schulheim) Mark Padmore [2:46]
Der Hügel Hüttenbrenner (Hilarius) Susan Gritton [2:33]
Die Sterne Hüttenbrenner (Leitner) Mark Padmore [2:38]
Lerchenlied Hüttenbrenner (Anonymous) Susan Gritton [1:47]
Gesang der Geister, Op 88 Loewe (Goethe) Susan Gritton, Ann Murray, Mark Padmore, Gerald Finley [6:09]
Erlkönig, Op 1 No 3 Loewe (Goethe) Gerald Finley [3:21]
Der Berghirt Bürde (Müller) Stella Doufexis [3:09]
Suleika Randhartinger (Willemer/Goethe) Susan Gritton [2:46]
Rastloses Wandern Randhartinger (Schulze) Gerald Finley [4:25]
Frühlingsglaube Unger (Uhland) Susan Gritton [2:00]
Ständchen Lachner (Rellstab) Mark Padmore [3:16]
Das Fischermädchen Lachner (Heine) Mark Padmore [3:00]
Der Schmied Lachner (Uhland) Stella Doufexis [0:51]
Nachtigall Lachner (Bauernfeld) Susan Gritton [4:36]
Herbst Lachner (Rellstab) Mark Padmore, Sebastian Comberti [3:21]
Der Herbstabend, Op 8 No 2 Vesque von Püttlingen (Salis-Seewis) Stella Doufexis [3:44]
Der Doppelgänger Vesque von Püttlingen (Heine) Gerald Finley [1:55]
Der Fischer Vesque von Püttlingen (Goethe) Stella Doufexis [4:17]
Die frühen Gräber, Op 9 No 4 Mendelssohn (Klopstock) Ann Murray [3:18]
Minnelied im Mai, Op 8 No 1 Mendelssohn (Hölty) Ann Murray [1:33]
Lied für XXX Schumann (Schumann) Mark Padmore [2:15]
Wandrers Nachtlied, Op 129 No 11 Hiller (Goethe) Susan Gritton [1:57]
Es rauschen die Winde, S294 Liszt (Rellstab) Mark Padmore [3:18]
Der Leiermann Banck (Müller) Gerald Finley [2:22]

 

 



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