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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition 31: Sturm und Drang Poets
1. Eine altschottische Ballade, ‘Edward’, D 923 (second version) [6:05]
2. In der Mitternacht, D 464 [4:07]
3. Trauer der Liebe, D 465 [2:24]
4. An Chloen, D 462 [1:50]
5. Hochzeit-Lied, D 463 [2:30]
6. Am Tage Aller Seelen, D343 [4:10]
7. Die Perle, D 466 [3:10]
Johann Rudolf ZUMSTEEG (1760-1802)
8. Hagars Klage [10:56]
Franz SCHUBERT
9. Lied des Orpheus, D474 [4:29]
10. Hagars Klage, D 5 [15:15]
11. An mein Klavier, D 342 [3:10]
12. Grablied auf einen Soldaten, D 454 [4:08
13. Lilla an die Morgenröte, D 273 [1:22]
14. Lorma, D 327 (first setting) [2:59]
15. Lied, D 284 [1:29]
16. An den Tod, D 518 [2:37]
17. Die Forelle, D550 (fourth version) [2:10]
Caroline Melzer (soprano); Konstantin Wolff (bass-baritone); Ulrich Eisenlohr (piano)
rec. Radiostudio Zurich, DRS, Zurich, Switzerland, 22-25 August 2008
The sung texts and English translations can be found at the Naxos website
NAXOS 8.572036 [72:50]
Experience Classicsonline

The first Schubert-Lied-Edition was published by Hyperion and is still available separately but also issued in a chronologically arranged box at budget price (see review). The second Edition - from Naxos - is now approaching its end and, even though there have been more ups and downs than on the Hyperion set, it is an appreciable achievement and well worth the relatively modest outlay for the individual discs. This latest instalment is no exception though I have some reservations.

It has to be conceded that the Sturm und Drang poets may not always have brought out the best from Schubert. Even so, there are almost everywhere in his oeuvre, irrespective of poets, things to admire and marvel at, while others are attractive but still of middling interest. Goethe and Schiller were the two most important and influential authors of the Sturm und Drang period, which lasted barely twenty years. They have been accounted for in earlier volumes and the poets represented here are no doubt minor ones but they certainly inspired Schubert to a couple of memorable and major songs. Johann Georg Jacobi (1740 - 1814), responsible for seven of the songs here, is hardly remembered today in his own right and Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart (1739 - 1791) is likewise relegated to the shadows of the past. Both of them have survived through Schubert’s setting of their poems or, to be more specific, one poem each.

Jacobi’s Am Tage Aller Seelen (tr. 6) is one of Schubert’s most heartfelt songs and a great favourite with many music lovers - and not only for the music but also for the strings the poem pulls. Schubart will probably be remembered, not only for the orthographic resemblance, but also through the delightful Die Forelle.

Those are also the songs on this disc that immediately draw attention to themselves - first and foremost thanks to Schubert’s settings. The Jacobi settings are in general professional but not particularly absorbing. With one exception they are strophic - which many Schubert songs are - but it is only Am Tage Aller Seelen that goes to the heart. The exception is Lied des Orpheus (tr. 9) which is dark and dramatic and built up as an operatic scena, where there are even pre-echoes of the young Verdi. The accompaniment is powerful and the song is a perfect vehicle for Konstantin Wolff, since it provides him with ample opportunities for dramatic declamation. He is also allotted Am Tage Aller Seelen which is sung with warmth and feeling.

There are some other songs that will also be of more than fleeting interest. One is Hagars Klage (tr. 10), which may not be Schubert’s first essay as a song composer but it is certainly his earliest completely preserved song. Considering that he was only fourteen when he wrote it, it is an amazing composition. It is long - more than fifteen minutes - and the layout is brave, almost revolutionary, with long stretches of recitative and a very active piano part. It has to be admitted, however, that Schubert had a model. He had been shown ‘several bundles of songs by Zumsteeg’, among them a setting of Schücking’s Hagars Klage. He then wanted to set the same poem. No doubt he was influenced by the older composer but Schubert developed his own style and it is instructive first to listen to Zumsteeg’s setting (tr. 8) and then Schubert’s (tr. 10). One finds that, however radical Zumsteeg was, Schubert in his early teens was already very advanced and seems like an old hand at writing for the theatre.

Among the other songs the setting of Schubart’s Grablied is gripping and Lorma, the text from Poems of Ossian (Ossian = James MacPherson), is interesting insofar as the melodic material is often presented in the piano accompaniment while the vocal part is expressed in recitative. It should also be noted that the song is listed immediately before Der Erlkönig in Deutsch’s catalogue.

The two singers on this disc were new to me and both are at the very beginning of their careers. On this hearing the bass-baritone Konstantin Wolff seems to be the most accomplished. His is a vibrant, powerful and expressive voice, produced with fine legato and excellent sense of nuance. He is darkly involving in some of the dramatic and gloomy songs but his soft singing is also enticing. His timbre has certain similarities with the great Swedish baritone Ingvar Wixell - a leading Verdi and Mozart baritone thirty to forty years ago - and this is high praise indeed. I am less enamoured of Caroline Melzer, whose tone is too often rather fluttery and edgy and when under pressure it adopts an annoying vibrato, which seems alarming for so young a singer. I have heard many better readings of Die Forelle. Against this must be adduced dramatic presence and - especially in the Zumsteeg setting - delicious pianissimo singing.

Ulrich Eisenlohr has been a pillar of strength throughout this comprehensive project - not only as the mastermind behind it and the writer of the illuminating liner-notes but also as an eminent accompanist on most of the issues. The recording, which is a co-production with Swiss Radio DRS II, is a model of it kind and the sung texts and English translations are available on internet - which may be inconvenient to some readers.

Though not everything here is gold, collectors of this series should invest in this issue for some deeply satisfying readings, primarily by Konstantin Wolff, who is a major find.

Göran Forsling

Naxos Schubert Lieder review page

 


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