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Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
see end of review for track listing
Barbara Hendricks (soprano)
Radu Lupu (piano), Bruno Schneider (horn)*, Sabine Meyer (clarinet)**
rec. 25, 28-30 November, 1985, Salle Wagram, Paris (CD 1); 7, 8, 11 September, 1992, Salle de Châtonneyre, Corseaux, Switzerland
EMI CLASSICS 5046702 [58:34 + 63:13]
Experience Classicsonline

Barbara Hendricks has been before the international public for more than thirty years now. She is still singing, having recently appeared at the “Winter Festival”, run by Martin Fröst at Lake Siljan in Central Sweden, just a couple of weeks ago (February 2008).
Ever since I first heard her I have been deeply attracted by her beautiful voice with that personal vibrato, her musicality and later also her charming stage appearance and her warm personality. But performances, live as well as on record, have often lost something in impact due to her inflexible tone and lack of true characterization. She is expert at shading the singing in all nuances from a ringing forte down to a soft beautiful pianissimo. She knows what she is singing about and can express that. She is never bland. On the other hand she rarely delves beneath the surface of a song and her tone is monochrome.
On a certain note the vibrato and the colour of the voice is exactly the same, whatever she is expressing: sorrow, joy, resignation, anger – the tone is the same. No matter how beautiful it is I want to hear the different moods. She communicates – but in a generalized way – and hearing her through a whole disc inevitably becomes monotonous. I could gladly pick one song for a specific purpose: a broadcast, a lecture, and it would probably perfectly illustrate the point I want to make. And, when listening for pleasure, alone or with friends, that’s what I normally do: pick and choose.
When it’s a question of only one composer for a long period of time matters get even worse. A mixed recital – like the companion to this Schubert double-CD; two discs with French melodies – is easier to digest thanks to the greater variations in style, harmonies and types of melodies, but the limitations remain: a G at mezzo forte sounds the same whoever wrote it and whatever it is supposed to depict.
These may be harsh words and I will have to make amends within a couple of paragraphs, but I have discussed this at some length since I want to make clear what inhibitions there may be. I am also fully aware that not everyone agrees with me and to those to whom these characteristics are no problem I can only say: Congratulations! You can stop reading and go out and buy.
To those who prefer different characteristics in ‘their’ singers, let me say: Go on reading! There may be some remedy in what follows.
To begin with Ms Hendricks has allied herself with one of the truly great pianists of the last thirty years, and a masterly Schubertian at that: Radu Lupu. His Schubert impromptus on Decca are to my mind only challenged by Brendel. I can’t remember hearing him as accompanist anywhere else, which makes his partnership with Barbara Hendricks special indeed. He doesn’t dominate the proceedings as some other soloists have tended to do but neither is he too reticent. It seems that they have found a good balance. Once or twice I reacted to his approach. Der Wanderer an den Mond seems too jolting but otherwise there are no eccentricities.
Generally Ms Hendricks is at her best in the quiet songs. There she excels in her hushed singing, the fining down of her voice to a thin pearly thread of tone and the warmth of her approach. And there are many of these songs: Der blinde Knabe, Der Einsame, Nacht und Träume, Lied der Mignon, inward and beautiful, Du bist die Ruh, possibly the best reading on CD 1; the two songs from Schwanengesang that open CD 2: Liebesbotschaft and Ständchen and of course Ave Maria, where she certainly surpasses many renowned competitors. I grew up with Marian Anderson’s recording. It was frequently played on the radio in those days and later I bought it on an EP now long worn out. Even though Anderson was a contralto there is close affinity between the two singers, most of all in their obvious affection and warmth.
The two longer songs on CD 2 with obbligato instruments should also be mentioned. It is a pity Auf der Strom is so rarely performed, since it is a fine song. Here the interplay between Barbara Hendricks’s silvery tone and Bruno Schneider’s mellow French horn is a real treat. In the better known Der Hirt auf dem Felsen it is not the contrast that stand out, rather the feeling of two sisters’ voices intertwining. Sabine Meyer is superb and Ms Hendricks is at her most attractively lyrical.
Rastlose Liebe on CD 1 has an eagerness in the reading that is welcome, and in Die Männer sind méchant there is some good characterization. Gretchen am Spinnrade is also finely caught while Die Forelle could have been livelier.
So things are not that bad after all. As I said earlier individual songs, heard in isolation, have a lot to offer and when these recordings were made her voice was at its loveliest. I still regret though that she didn’t have access to a richer palette of colours. Her readings can be likened to pen-and-ink drawings and personally I can’t digest too many of those in an art gallery. On the other hand, studying a couple of them closely is fine.
There are no texts, which is a drawback, since the essence of Lieder is the interplay between words and music. The recordings are faultless.
Good songs, beautiful singing but too monochrome for extended listening.
Göran Forsling

Track listing
CD 1
Der Wanderer an den Mond, D870 [1:41]
Der blinde Knabe, D833 [4:07]
Der Einsame, D800 [4:01]
Nacht und Träume, D827 [3:18]
Suleika I, D720 [5:14]
Ganymed, D544 [5:08]
Rastlose Liebe, D138 [1:16]
Wandrers Nachtlied II, D768 [2:04]
Die Forelle, D550 [2:25]
Suleika II, D717 [3:51]
Der Musensohn, D764 [2:08]
Lied der Mignon, D877 [3:14]
Der König in Thule, D367 [3:23]
Gretchen am Spinnrade, D118 [3:23]
Du bist die Ruh, D776 [4:56]
Im Frühling, D882 [4:24]
An Silvia, D891 [3:12]
CD 2
Liebesbotschaft, D957 No. 1 [2:36]
Ständchen, D957 No. 4 [3:39]
Lachen und Weinen, D777 [1:36]
Vier Refrainlieder D866 – No. 3: Die Männer sind méchant [2:38]
Auf dem Strom, D943 [8:51]*
Sehnsucht, D879 [2:41]
An den Mond, D193 [2:40]
Versunken, D715 [2:03]
Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D965 [11:17]**
Du liebst mich nicht, D756 [3:23]
Die Liebe hat gelogen, D751 [2:13]
Die junge Nonne, D828 [4:29]
Klaglied, D23 [1:22]
Ellens Gesang III (Ave Maria), D839 [6:03]
Lied der Delphine, D857, No. 1 [4:30]
Heidenröslein, D257 [1:47]


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