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SCHUBERT (1797–1828) Die schöne Müllerin, D795 (1823) [65:13]; Schwanengesang, D957 (1828) [52:40] Lieder, Op. 80 (1826): No. 1 Der Wanderer an den
Mond [2:35]; No. 2 Das Zügenglöcklein [5:26]; No. 3 Im
Freien [5:32] Winterreise, D911 (1827) [75:16]
Olaf Bär (baritone),
Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
rec. 16-20 June 1986, Lukaskirche, Dresden (Die schöne Müllerin);
August 1989, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (Schwanengesang;
Lieder Op. 80); December 1988 (Winterreise). DDD EMI CLASSICS
50999 5009342 7 [3 CDs: 66:13 + 66:11
Olaf Bär will turn fifty in December (2007). He can look back
on an immensely successful career, covering church music and
as well as Lieder. Born in Dresden in East Germany he joined
the famous Dresdner Kreutzchor at the age of nine, quickly
advancing to soloist. He made his recording debut in 1970
as one of the three boys in Die Zauberflöte. Among
those three soloists can also be mentioned another former
member of the same choir, Peter Schreier as Tamino. Helen
Donath was Pamina. Bär took part in twelve complete opera
projects, the latest as Kurwenal in the famous EMI recording
of Tristan und Isolde with Placido Domingo and Nina
Stemme. It is however as a Lieder singer that he has become
best known. When in the mid-1980s EMI started issuing a steady
stream of recordings with Geoffrey Parsons, Bär was hailed
as the natural heir to the icons Fischer-Dieskau and Prey.
He was a fully-fledged Lieder artist when he debuted with
Schumann’s Dichterliebe and Liederkreis in
1985. The next year came Die schöne Müllerin, followed
within a couple of years by Winterreise and Schwanengesang.
All three cycles must count among the best versions ever
committed to disc. It would be close to criminal not at the
very least to have heard them.
When listening to Die schöne Müllerin the first thing
one notices is the total naturalness of the singing. Bär lets
the music speak without undue accenting and word-pointing. He
Parsons scrupulously follow the many dynamic markings in
the score; the tempo markings are also very well judged.
Take the first song, Das Wandern, which some singers
love to run through. But it is about walking and the marking
is Mässig geschwind, (moderately fast) which is exactly
the way they do it. Bär’s youthful timbre, the lightness
and the sheer beauty of the singing is also a pleasure to
hear. While listening I made copious notes. Der Neugierige (CD1
tr. 6) should be mentioned for the sensitive legato singing
as should the nervous eagerness of Ungeduld (CD1 tr.
7) - something to savour. Then I should mention the delicate
and intimate Morgengruss (CD1 tr. 8). His enunciation
of the texts is superb – again ‘natural’ is a keyword – listen
to Tränenregen (CD1 tr. 10). He colours the voice
to convey his ‘Liebespain’ in Pause (CD1 tr. 12).
This is Lieder singing of the utmost sensitivity. Fischer-Dieskau,
especially his DG version with Gerald Moore, will never be
redundant. Of recent recordings Jan Kobow’s (see review)
is superb but Olaf Bär is definitely a top ranking contender.
The same can be said of his reading of Schwanengesang which
with its darker colours and more dramatic contents is in
many ways even more testing. This is not a cycle in the normal
sense of the word and Schubert never published the songs – that
was done after his death by Tobias Haslinger. Most singers
stick to his published order with the seven Rellstab songs
followed by the six by Heine and with Seidl’s Die Taubenpost as
a kind of encore. Bär sings the Rellstab songs as published
but reshuffles the Heine group. As in Die schöne Müllerin the
two musicians are very careful with dynamics and tempos.
In dramatic songs like Aufenthalt, Der Doppelgänger and
the powerful Der Atlas Bär sings with an intensity
and a great deal of steel in the voice. Having heard the
mainly lyrical Schöne Müllerin one would never believe
this was within Bär’s compass. While he lacks Fischer-Dieskau’s
bass-baritone depth of tone he produces a leaner intensity
that is just as effective. Any of these songs would be ideal
to present to a young singer as an interpretative model.
As a ‘filler’ to CD 2 we get the three Lieder Op.
80 in wonderful readings.
I bought his Winterreise when it was new and was deeply
impressed by the beauty, the naturalness, the nuance, the
tempo for each song and – not least – the teamwork between
pianist and singer. They seemed like twin souls, spontaneously
reacting identically in every specific moment. Of course
they are deeply considered readings but the effect is spontaneous.
The beauty of Der Lindenbaum, the anxiety of Die
Wetterfahne, the lightness of Frühlingstraum,
the concentration of Das Wirtshaus and the simplicity
and drained tone of Der Leiermann – all of this seemed
to surpass anything I had heard before. Forced to choose
one version of this cycle I would probably in the last resort
pick this one but I couldn’t live without a couple of DF-D
recordings: the ones with Barenboim and Gerald Moore, both
on DG. Nor would I be prepared to part from Tom Krause on
Finlandia and Hans Hotter on EMI with Gerald Moore. In addition
there are a number of other recordings that I would like
to play from time to time.
For those who, like me, missed some of these readings the
first time around this is a golden opportunity to set things
For those who have no recordings of these songs – horrible
thought! – this is a golden opportunity to set things right.
For those who have been contemplating buying a really valuable
Christmas present to a young Schubert-lover, this is a golden
opportunity. For the last mentioned category the box needs
a complement in the shape of texts and translations or, better
still, a volume with the music which can be purchased for
less than a tenner in any well-stocked music shop.