Last year I reviewed
a recording of Die schöne Müllerin by these same artists
and although I had some reservations, mainly interpretative,
I found much to enjoy. This follow-up release offers another
example of this fine tenor in the lieder repertoire and
singing songs that quite clearly mean a lot to him.
He writes in an interesting booklet essay that An die ferne
Geliebte is a work that he’s known since his school days;
it was one of the first pieces in the song repertoire that he
properly learned. As a concert artist with significant experience
behind him, he has committed his interpretation to disc. He
gives a fine performance. In the first song his light, easy
tone is just right for the young man’s wistful recollection
of the first meeting with his beloved. Gilchrist leans into
a few notes for emphasis and he judges this effect with discrimination.
Later, in the third song, ‘Lecht Segler in den Höhen’, he and
pianist Anna Tilbrook invest the music with the right degree
of lightness – their crisp rhythms help here and in the following
song. Finally, as Beethoven reverts to a slower tempo for the
last song, ‘Nimm sie hin denn, diese lieder’, Gilchrist’s legato
line is winningly spun. There’s a very fine use of head voice
at the line ‘Hinter jener Bergeshöh’ and he brings a compelling
urgency to the final stanza.
In some of his vocal writing – one thinks of the Ninth Symphony
and Missa Solemnis – Beethoven’s vocal writing is, at
times, downright inconsiderate to the human voice. There’s none
of that in An die ferne Geliebte. The vocal line lies
nicely at all times and these songs are grateful, rather than
punishing, to sing. The cycle suits James Gilchrist’s voice
admirably and his vocal timbre seems very well suited to Beethoven’s
He also seems thoroughly at home in Schwanengesang. His
light, somewhat sappy tone is well suited to the wistful melancholy
of ‘Ständchen’ – he delivers this celebrated song with
fine feeling. He’s also well suited to ‘Liebesbotschaft’ and
‘Frülingssehnsucht’ for the same reason. But what impresses
even more is the intensity that he brings to some of the other
songs. In ‘Die Stadt’ the intensity is achieved through a glacial
tone at the start and, by way of contrast, much more histrionic
power for the third stanza. More “conventional” intensity is
achieved in a song such as ‘Der Atlas’, for which Gilchrist
has the necessary rhetorical power, and he invests ‘Aufenthalt’
with both power and anguish.
I greatly admired the dynamic range he employs in ‘Der Doppelgänger’.
He gives an extraordinarily intense and expertly controlled
reading of this gaunt, bleak song. Equally admirable is the
restraint with which he sings ‘Ihr Bild’; that quality of restraint
is highly appropriate to this concentrated, spare song.
I’ve never been sure about ‘Die Taubenpost’. It sits oddly with
many of the preceding songs, and especially as an envoi
to the collection. One wonders why Tobias Haslinger tacked it
on to the remainder of the collection when publishing Schwanengesang
after Schubert’s death. Maybe he was wary of rounding off
this collection of songs with the bleak vision of ‘Der Doppelgänger’.
As it is, the bitter-sweet, light song that is ‘Die Taubenpost’
does seem at odds with much of what has preceded it. On the
other hand, it serves to emphasise that Schwanengesang
is a not a cycle but a collection – and not one made by the
composer. Gilchrist sings the song delightfully and Anna Tilbrook,
whose piano playing has been exemplary throughout the preceding
thirteen songs – and, indeed, in the Beethoven - accompanies
with a lovely touch.
This is a most enjoyable and rewarding recital. The performances
are consistently excellent and both the recorded sound and the
documentation are very good. With Die schöne Müllerin and
Schwanengesang now both safely ‘in the can’ will James
Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook go on to record Winterreise?
I hope so.
Masterwork Index: Schwanengesang