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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Part-Songs, Vol. 2
Sibylla Rubens, Silke Schwarz (sopranos); Regina Jakobi, Ingeborg Danz, Hildegard Wiedemann (altos); Markus Schäfer, Marcus Ullmann (tenors); Thomas E. Bauer, Markus Flaig, Marcus Schmidl (basses)
Ulrich Eisenlohr (piano)
rec. August-Everding-Saal, Grünwald, Germany, 16-23 April 2008. DDD.
A co-production with Bayerischer Rundfunk
Full tracklisting at end of review
NAXOS 8.570962 [67:17]

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Part-Songs, Vol. 3
Markus Schäfer, Marcus Ullmann (tenors); Thomas E. Bauer, Markus Flaig, Marcus Schmidl (basses); Ulrich Eisenlohr (piano)
rec. August-Everding-Saal, Grünwald, Germany, 16-23 April 2008. DDD.
A co-production with Bayerischer Rundfunk
Full tracklisting at end of review
NAXOS 8.572110 [64:29]
Experience Classicsonline

The Naxos Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition is beginning to rival the 40-CD Hyperion Edition in size - these are volumes 33 and 34 - if not always in quality. The tone, set by the very first volumes, such as number 6, which John Quinn thought very good value, if not quite the best available (8.554740 - see review) is continued in these latest CDs.

These two volumes continue the work of Volume 32 in collecting the part-songs, still a little-known part of Schubert’s song output. Arthur Hutchinson’s Schubert in the Dent Master Musicians series (1945), the first book on Schubert which I read and still a useful work of reference, contains one brief mention of “the male-voice Song of the Spirits over the Waters, or the vocal dance Welcome Spring” (p.140) and nothing else on the part-songs. His comment that these works are “unaccountably neglected” still largely holds good. The Gesang der Geister is a part-song with orchestral accompaniment and, therefore, beyond the remit of the Naxos edition.

Naxos has chosen to present the part-songs separately in three volumes, whereas Hyperion have intermingled them with other repertoire. Thus, for example, Gott in der Natur, D757, the first item on Volume 2, appears on Volume 35 of the Hyperion edition in the company of other part-songs but also of Lieder for solo voice, all written in the last years of the composer’s life, 1822-1825.

The presence of acknowledged masterpieces such as Lachen und Weinen, D777, and Du bist die Ruh, D776, together with other less well-known but excellent songs, on that Hyperion disc (CDJ33035) will make it a more attractive proposition for most listeners. The Hyperion comes at twice the price of the Naxos but, if the price seems an insuperable problem, it can be downloaded from the new Hyperion download site for £7.99 (mp3 or lossless flac), a facility which I have recently highlighted in choosing my top 30 Hyperion downloads in an article which should have appeared by the time that your read this review. If price is a real issue, Hyperion’s superb sampler from the first 27 CDs in the series, HYP200, at £3.99 is a bargain to be snapped up a.s.a.p. - it’s advertised as limited in availability and it isn’t yet available for download.

A friend who has seen my choice of the Hyperion Top 30 has justly criticised my omission of the Schubert and Schumann Song Editions; I felt that they were just too large an enterprise for me to be able to do justice to them with one or two highlighted CDs, so I hope to include some items from both collections in forthcoming Download Roundups.

On CDJ33035 Hyperion line up a formidable array of interpreters: Patricia Rozario, Lorna Anderson, Catherine Denley and Catherine Wyn-Rogers in Gott in der Natur; John Mark Ainsley, Jamie MacDougall, Simon Keenlyside and Michael George in Der Gondelfahrer, D809, another part-song included on Naxos Volume 2 (tr.14).

I have already indicated that two whole discs devoted exclusively to the part songs would not be my ideal way to present the music: charming as many of these pieces are, there are no masterpieces here. Opening Volume 2 with a setting of Kleist’s poem Gott in der Natur did little to endear this CD to me. I have seen it suggested that Schubert seems to have wished to imitate the manner of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte in this piece but the result appears rather overblown, even pompous by comparison with the normal Schubertian manner. Add the fact that the text is rather overdone, and that some of the performers are not in best voice - it’s almost as if they used this piece to warm up; matters improve later - and I begin to understand why my Arcam Solo refused to play this first track. My other decks were more obliging.

I have to admit that Kleist is hardly my favourite German poet - he doesn’t even figure in The Oxford Book of German Poetry on which my tastes were formed over fifty years ago - so I’m happy that Schubert reduced his seventeen stanzas to a mere four, but all in all this track gets the CD off to a poor start. Even Hyperion’s excellent team of performers fail to convince me, though their performance is more secure, not least because of the strong lead given by Graham Johnson at the piano in the opening bars. The more leisurely tempo on Hyperion also helps, but I am surprised that both Naxos and Hyperion chose to open their respective CDs with this piece.

Much more sensible was the decision to conclude Naxos’s Volume 2 with the attractive Ständchen, D920, with words by Schubert’s friend Grillparzer, a better poet, though hardly a first-ranker - he’s better known for his plays. The words are no masterpiece - Grillparzer is also conspicuous by his absence from the Oxford Book of German Verse - but it’s what Schubert does with them that counts and he does some fine things here.

Schubert’s setting of Moses Mendelssohn’s translation of Psalm No.23 (tr.2) is a fine piece; the singing is better here than on track 1, but I prefer Wolfgang Sawallisch’s slightly faster account on EMI Classics 7474072, which also contains versions of the Deutsche Messe and Mass No.2 and which I preferred in another recent review to versions on Naxos. That EMI recording is deleted on CD, except in a very inexpensive box set of Schubert’s Complete Sacred Works (5860112, 7 CDs for around £20) and as a download from passionato.com (mp3 and lossless flac).

I’ve already indicated that matters improve in the later pieces; tracks 14-16 compare more favourably with their equivalents on Hyperion than did Gott in der Natur. Whereas the Hyperion performers took that first track slightly more leisurely than their Naxos rivals, in Der Gondelfahrer, D809 (Naxos tr.14) the boot is on the other foot, with Johnson setting a slightly but significantly faster pace from the outset. I think that the music benefits from this and the piece certainly benefits from Michael George’s contribution; good as Thomas Bauer, the Naxos bass is, he is out-performed here.

Coronach (tr.15) is a song of mourning but, again, Hyperion’s slightly faster pace is no disadvantage to the music and the line-up of Rozario, Anderson and Wyn-Rogers again proves to be more impressive than Naxos’s Schwarz, Jakobi and Danz. The latter trio are far from completely outshone, however; I could happily live with either and both make this strange combination of two sopranos and mezzo/alto work well.

I’ve already indicated that the final track, Ständchen, D920, provides a fine conclusion to Volume 2; not only is the music much more amenable than Gott in der Natur on the opening track, but the singers seem much more at home with it. It’s a late piece (1827, not published until 1891) and it’s a real gem, deserving to be better known - just about the nearest to a masterpiece that anything on these two CDs comes.

Even Sarah Walker on Hyperion, with a fine line-up of male-voice supporters and Graham Johnson, doesn’t put the Naxos performance to shame (CDJ33008, tr.16) though her performance is rightly thought good enough to feature on Hyperion’s sampler for the series (HYP200, tr.22) and again on Hyperion’s general sampler, The Essential Hyperion 2 (HYP20, CD2, tr.4).

Volume 3 opens as auspiciously as Volume 2 ended, with a fine performance of Trinklied, D75. This youthful piece makes a powerful opening to a programme of exclusively male-voice songs which I find marginally preferable as a whole to the repertoire on Volume 2. Only Graham Johnson’s slightly more decisive lead-in and Michael George’s more powerful bass give the performance on Hyperion CDJ33033 the edge in this piece.

The little-known nature of the music on CDJ33033 means that the CD is available only from the Archive Service or as a download (mp3 or flac) or in the complete edition. The music on Naxos Volume 3 is a little better known - the male-voice songs have proved more popular than those for female and mixed voices - and it contains some very attractive songs.

Die Nachtigall, D724 (tr.3) is one such and Frühlingsegang, D740, (tr.11) another, to take just two at random; both receive a performance as appealing as the music. I listened to the extract from Die Nachtigall on the Hyperion website and didn’t feel that there was much to choose between the two versions. Though the Hyperion is slightly faster on paper, the Naxos performers keep the momentum going just that little more effectively; if there’s anything in it, I think they have the edge here. Die Nachtigall is performed on An 1822 Schubertiad, CDJ33028, a CD which also contains a few of the other part-songs on Naxos Volume 3. It’s an attractive programme, including a marginally faster performance of Frühlingsgesang than that on Naxos Vol.3, but not, I think, preferable to the latter. Just occasionally, one of the Naxos tenors - I’m not sure which - lets the side down slightly.

The Naxos recording is good throughout. The notes, by Ulrich Eisenlohr, the accompanist and directing force behind this enterprise, are very good. His gloss on Gott in der Natur, suggesting that Schubert was here setting a text whose vision of God differed from his own, helped me understand my lack of response to this song. The cover portraits are of two of the poets whose work Schubert set - Friedrich von Matthison and Gottfried Bürger respectively. 

You will have to download the texts and translations from the web; they are certainly worth having, especially as they give the dates of all the pieces, few of which are indicated in the notes in the booklet.

If you prefer to have Schubert’s part-songs collected together, these Naxos CDs will offer you a set of mostly good, often very good and always adequate, performances, well recorded and attractively presented. Volume 3 (8.572110) is especially recommendable. Turn to the Hyperion recordings, however, and you will find a slightly but significantly better quality of performance, notably so in the case of Volume 2 (8.570962), but the part-songs are scattered across several Hyperion volumes. Those content with a single-CD selection will probably be happy with Marcus Creed’s recording on Harmonia Mundi HMC90 1669 - I haven’t heard it, but it has been recommended in various quarters.

Brian Wilson 

Naxos Schubert Lied Edition review page

Full Track-Details
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Part-Songs, Vol. 2
Gott in der Natur, D757 (wds. Kleist) [5:38]
Psalm 23, Op. 132, D706 [5:03]
Das Leben, D269 (wds. Wannovius) [1:37]
La pastorella al prato, D513 (wds. Goldoni) [2:00]
Naturgenuß (second setting), D422 (wds. Matthisson) [3:55]
Beitrag zur fünfzigjährigen Jubelfeier des Herrn Salieri, D407 (wds. Schubert) [5:05]
Licht und Liebe (Nachtgesang), D352 (wds. Collin) [4:26]
Antigone und Ödip, Op. 6, No. 2, D542 (wds. Mayrhofer) [5:32]
Linde Weste wehen, D725 (wds. Anonymous) [0:41]
Kantate zum Geburtstag des Sängers Johann Michael Vogl (Der Frühlingsmorgen), D666 (wds. Stadler) [9:45]
Klage um Ali Bey (first setting), D140 (wds. Claudius) [4:34]
Der Gondelfahrer (second setting), Op. 28, D809 (wds. Mayrhofer) [3:36]
Coronach (Totengesang der Frauen und Mädchen), Op. 52, No. 4, D836 (wds. Scott/Storck) [5:32]
Bootgesang, Op. 52, No. 3, D835 (wds. Scott/Storck) [4:04]
Ständchen, Op. 135, D920 (wds. Grillparzer) [5:49]
Sibylla Rubens, Silke Schwarz (sopranos); Regina Jakobi, Ingeborg Danz, Hildegard Wiedemann (altos); Markus Schäfer, Marcus Ullmann (tenors); Thomas E. Bauer, Markus Flaig, Marcus Schmidl (basses); Ulrich Eisenlohr (piano)
rec. August-Everding-Saal, Grünwald, Germany, 16-23 April 2008. DDD.
A co-production with Bayerischer Rundfunk
Sung texts and English translations can be found at the Naxos website.
NAXOS 8.570962 [67:17]

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Part-Songs, Vol. 3
Trinklied, D75 (wds. Schäffer) [2:41]
Geist der Liebe (2nd setting), D747 (wds. Matthisson) [4:32]
Die Nachtigall, D724 (wds. Unger) [4:07]
Trinklied, D267 (wds. Anonymous) [0:59]
Bergknappenlied, D268 (wds. Anonymous) [1:10]
Das Dörfchen, D641 (wds. Bürger) [4:31]
Punschlied, D277 (wds. Schiller) [3:35]
Im Gegenwärtigen Vergangenes, D710 (wds. Goethe) [6:04]
Trinklied, D148 (wds. Castelli) [4:22]
Die Advokaten, D37 (wds. Rustenfeld) [7:54]
Frühlingsgesang (2nd setting), D740 (wds. Schober) [4:15]
Zur guten Nacht, D903 (wds. Rochlitz) [3:17]
Das Grab (3rd setting), D377 (wds. Salis-Seewis) [3:19]
Mondenschein, D875 (wds. Schober) [5:23]
Widerspruch, D865 (wds. Seidl) [2:26]
Nachthelle, D892 (wds. Seidl) [5:53]
Markus Schäfer, Marcus Ullmann (tenors); Thomas E. Bauer, Markus Flaig, Marcus Schmidl (basses); Ulrich Eisenlohr (piano)
rec. August-Everding-Saal, Grünwald, Germany, 16-23 April 2008. DDD.
Sung texts and English translations can be found at the Naxos website.
A co-production with Bayerischer Rundfunk
NAXOS 8.572110 [64:29] 

 


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