Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Part-Songs - Volume 2
Gott in der Natur D.757 [5:38]
Der 23 Psalm Op 132 D.706 [5:03]
Das Leben D269 [1:37]
La pastorella al prato D513 [2:00]
Naturgruß D422 [3:55]
Beitrag zur fünfjährigen Jubelfeier des Herrn von Salieri D407 [6:05]
Licht und Liebe D352 [4:26]
Antigone und Ödip Op 6/2 D542 [5:32]
Linde Weste wehen (fragment) D725 [0:41]
Kantate zum Geburtstag des Sängers Johann Michael Vogl D666 [9:45]
Klage un Ali Bey D140 [4:34]
Gondelfahrer Op 28 D809 [3:36]
Coronach Op 52/4 D836 [5:32]
Bootgesang Op 52/3 D835 [4:04] Ständchen Op 135 D920 [5:49]
Sibylla Rubens, Silke Schwarz (sopranos); Regina Jakobi, Ingeborg Danz, Hildegard Wiedmann (altos); Markus Schäfer, Marcus Ullmann (tenors); Thomas E Bauer, Markus Flaig, Marcus Schmidl (basses); Ulrich Elsenlohr (piano)
rec. August-Everding-Saal, Grünwald, Germany, 16-23 April 2008
NAXOS 8.570962 [67:17]

I do not know why Ulrich Eisenlohr, the pianist and mastermind behind the Naxos Schubert Song Edition, decided to separate the part-songs from the solo songs. In this he differs from the practcie observed in the Hyperion edition. Also I do not know the basis on which he divided them up over three discs. What I do know is that as far as this second volume is concerned it works, being admirably varied in content, both in the mixture of voices involved and in the character of the various songs. “Songs” is perhaps a misnomer, as there are also two more complex works written to celebrate respectively the fiftieth birthday of Salieri, Schubert’s teacher, and the fifty-first birthday of Michael Vogl, the singer and friend of Schubert. The former is almost comic in its succession of a brief trio, aria and canon, all in what seems a deliberately basic manner designed to show off the simple stuff that Salieri had taught him. The latter by way of contrast is both longer and more complex in its structure. Both are clearly occasional pieces but worth hearing once in a while.

The disc does however contain several real masterpieces, including the delightful and deceptively simple-sounding setting of Psalm 23 often sung by boy or female choirs and the Coronach to words from Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake”. The delicious Serenade starts and ends with the effect of the serenader arriving and leaving, with a more complex middle section including the serenade itself. “Antigone und Ödip” is a duet of almost operatic manner between the two characters after their arrival in Colonus. “Gott in der Natur” is highly, possibly excessively, dramatic. The remainder of the disc gives an indication of the range of Schubert’s song-writing abilities, albeit containing few other dramatic songs. The disc nonetheless works well as a whole, with almost every item having something of interest and most having a great deal more than that. Perhaps I could have done without the “Klage un Ali Bey” which seems much longer than its four or so minutes. Ulrich Eisenlohr’s fascinating notes describe it as very funny and refer to Schubert’s “congenial, apparently simple, yet profoundly calculated setting”. I suppose that it is possible to write comic songs about the murder of a Moslem Prince by his favourite but for me this example is neither funny nor very interesting. It is however only one item on a disc otherwise full of varied, interesting and frequently very beautiful music.

None of this would help if the performances were inadequate, but fortunately they are not. None of the singers struck me as being outstanding and some have voices that are less than first rate, but all understand the idiom and are capable of bringing out the individual character of the songs. Given that many were written for specific social occasions any lack of star quality in the individual voices is by no means inappropriate. Indeed too high powered an approach might easily sound like overkill. Above all, however, the presence of Ulrich Eisenlohr at the piano throughout guarantees the listener’s enjoyment. As with other great accompanists in this music, he has the ability to point the accompaniment without sounding fussy or losing sight of the character of the song as a whole. I have already referred to his admirable notes. Unfortunately there is no room in the booklet for the essential words of the songs or for translations. These are available on the Naxos website, which is less convenient but worth putting up with to make room for the notes and biographies of the singers. All in all, an entertaining exploration of some of the lesser known parts of Schubert’s output.

John Sheppard