Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Schwanengesang D957 [48:06]; Schwanengesang No. 1 D318 [3:49]; Schwanengesang No. 2 D744 [2:22]; Herbst D945 [3:10]; Sehnsucht D636 [3:55]
Dominik Wörner (bass-baritone); Christoph Hammer (piano)
rec. Musikhaus Marthashofen, Grafrath, 25-28 October 2009
German text included
ARS PRODUCTION ARS 38 494 CD [61:41]

Schubert’s Swan Song was given that name by Tobias Haslinger, its first publisher, after the composer’s death. Whether it was intended as a set and, if so, the order in which the songs were intended to be sung, must remain unanswered in the absence of any specific guidance from the composer. What we have now consists essentially of two groups of songs, by the poets Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine respectively, and a single song (Die Taubenpost) to a text by Johann Gabriel Seidl. In this recording the two main groups are separated by the single song and by Sehnsucht, to a text by Schiller, and the programme as a whole begins and ends with the two unrelated songs to which Schubert did give the name Schwanengesang.

There is some sensible and effective re-ordering of the two main groups but the disc’s main attractions are the very personal and intelligent approach of the singer, Dominik Wörner, and the use of a fortepiano from the exact time of the cycle’s composition by Conrad Graf of Vienna. The latter is in every way a complete success, not only for its sheer beauty of tone but mainly for the extraordinary clarity with which the texture can be heard. Even in Der Atlas, the heaviest of the songs, all of the notes can be heard in a way that is seldom possible with modern instruments. This is perhaps not entirely a gain in this song, where there is a lack of the kind of raw power exhibited by the best artists using modern instruments. This applies also to Dominik Wörner’s singing as well. Atlas was the quintessential weightlifter, and most baritones singing the song with his name are able to suggest this power. I suspect that Dominik Wörner could do so too but chooses not to, and the result is some reduction in the heroic quality of the song. On the other hand perhaps he is closer to the spirit of the poem, which speaks of a man more breaking with grief than standing up under it. Elsewhere his singing is usually lighter than usual, more suited to a salon than a concert hall and well matched to the imaginative playing of Christoph Hammer. This intimate approach, coupled with great care over the words and very well recorded, makes for a very compelling whole. Songs such as Der Stadt and Der Doppelgänger are in some ways even more terrifying as a result of this intimate approach.

The presentation of the disc is very full, with useful essays and the full German text, but lacks an English translation of the latter although there are translations of the essays. This is a serious lack which may reduce the disc’s appeal for some potential purchasers. This would be a pity as it has much to offer as a coherent, well considered and thoroughly fresh performance.

John Sheppard

A coherent, well considered and thoroughly fresh performance.