Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Schwanengesang (1828)
Lieder nach Gedichte von Ludwig Rellstab D 957:
1. Liebesbotschaft [3:11]
2. Kriegers Ahnung [4:54]
3. Frühlingssehnsucht [3:37]
4. Ständchen [3:44]
5. Aufenthalt [3:04]
6. In der Ferne [6:24]
7. Abschied [4:34]
Lieder nach Gedichte von Ernst Konrad Friedrich Schulze:
8. Im Walde, D 834 [6:33]
9. Im Frühling, D 882 [4:44]
10. Über Wildemann, D 884 [1:53]
11. Auf der Bruck, D 853 [3:24]
Lieder nach Gedichte von Heinrich Heine D 957:
12. Der Atlas [2:02]
13. Ihr Bild [3:08]
14. Das Fischermädchen [2:30]
15. Die Stadt [2:46]
16. Am Meer [4:06]
17. Der Doppelgänger [4:14]
Lied nach Gedicht von Johann Gabriel Seidl D 965:
18. Die Taubenpost [4:07]
Thomas Oliemans (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. All Saints Church (East Finchley), 15-17 March 2010
Sung texts in German with English translations enclosed
ET’CETERA KTC 1420 [69:04]

Unlike Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise Schubert’s Schwanengesang is not a song-cycle. It lacks a narrative thread. Thematically and musically they still have much in common but we don’t know if Schubert ever intended the songs to be performed as a unity. When they were published early in 1829 Schubert had been dead for some months and Tobias Haslinger, the first publisher, named the collection Schwanengesang (Swan Song) presumably to stress the fact that these were the last fruits of the composer’s genius.

The sequence consists of seven settings of poems by Rellstab, six of poems by Heine and as an encore Seidl’s Taubenpost, allotted an individual number by Deutsch for his catalogue and supposed to be the very last song Schubert wrote. This has for long been the established order when Schwanengesang has been performed in recital or on record.

Now, here comes rising baritone star Thomas Oliemans, partnered by the ever reliable and inspirational Malcolm Martineau with his version, and this is a version with a difference. In the middle of the ‘cycle’, between the Rellstab and Heine groups, Oliemans has inserted four songs to poems by Schulze. The liner-notes, a conversation between Oliemans and Calmer Roos, puzzlingly say not a world about this amendment. The Seidl songs are all late Schubert and I can only guess the theoretical background: Maybe if Schubert had lived a little longer he might have considered a cycle after all and since Müllerin consists of twenty songs and Winterreise twenty-four, he would have wished the new cycle to be about the same duration. Rummaging through his latest production of songs he would have found the Seidl songs and said. ‘Exactly what I need! There is a lack of tension leading over to Der Atlas, and this should be the true climax of the cycle.’

If that was the reason for improving the cycle I think it was a brilliant one. The four new songs are among the finest – and darkest – of Schubert’s late songs and they fit admirably into Schwanengesang, not as ‘fillers’ but as an integrated part of the whole, providing even more drama and darkness.

A while ago I wrote that Thomas Oliemans seems to be the best Francophone baritone since Gérard Souzay. Souzay was a great interpreter of the central German repertoire. Being an excellent linguist he could handle the language idiomatically and Oliemans, being Dutch, is even closer. Like Souzay it’s not just a question of pronouncing the words but understanding them and conveying their underlying meaning to the listener.

His first recital with mélodies by Fauré and Poulenc made me exclaim towards the end of the review: ‘I am convinced that this is a Lieder and Mélodies artist of rare talent’ and then award the disc a Recording Of The Month header plus, some months later, including the disc in my selected Recordings Of The Year. Expectations were high when I put the new disc in the CD-player. I wasn’t disappointed.

He makes each and every one of these delectable songs come alive, makes me listen anew to music I thought I knew inside out and find new details, new insights. He doesn’t impress through staggering exclamations and hairpin diminuendos – even if he has the capacity for both. As I jotted down about Kriegers Ahnung: ‘The intensity expressed both in decibels and finely graded nuances.’ One notices the ebb and flow of Frühlingssehnsucht, the simplicity of Ständchen and the withdrawn character of In der Ferne, where in the last stanza he colours the tone lighter and thinner but with dramatic intensity up to the last thundering chord.

Abschied is on the surface a jolly song, but in reality it is a man who tries to keep smiling while saying a painful farewell. The darker undercurrents come well to the fore in Oliemans’ reading.

The four Schulze settings, well known on their own, stand out as even more masterly in this surrounding. About Im Walde I wrote: ‘Marvellous reading! Worthy to stand beside Fischer-Dieskau!’ Regular readers may know that I am an inveterate admirer of the latter who, incidentally, was one of Oliemans’ teachers. Der Atlas, always the apex of Schwanengesang, also gets a magnificent interpretation. Then there is a lot of hushed intimacy in some of the following Heine songs, only to grab the listener by the throat in the frightening Der Doppelgänger with a tremendous build-up and the voice filled with pain. Die Taubenpost is a winning postlude.

By this issue Thomas Oliemans confirms the great impression he made with his previous recital. There is also a Winterreise that I haven’t heard. He is now one of the most thrilling young baritones around.

Göran Forsling

One of the most thrilling young baritones around.