Franz SCHUBERT(1797-1828) Schwanengesang, D.957 [50:04] Herbst, D.945 [3:47] Der Winterabend, D.938 [8:15]
Christopher Maltman (baritone); Graham Johnson (piano)
rec. live, 20 April 2010, Wigmore Hall, London. DDD
German texts and English translations included
WIGMORE HALL LIVE WHLIVE0049 [63:26]
The Wigmore Hall Live label has already issued CDs of outstanding
performances by Christopher Maltman and Graham Johnson of Die
schöne Müllerin (review)
and Winterreise (review).
I was impressed by both recordings and so I was delighted when
a copy of the third and final release in this mini-series arrived
The more I hear Schubert’s three song cycles - and I hope
readers will excuse me if, for ease of reference, I refer thus
to Schwanengesang; I know it’s not a true song
cycle - the more I prefer them when sung by a tenor in the original
high keys. Somehow this seems appropriate to the poems, to the
music and to the fact that all the songs were the creations
of a young man. That said, my ears are far from closed to lower
voices in these songs and especially not when the singer in
question is as persuasive a singer as Christopher Maltman.
The opening song, ‘Liebesbotschaft’, illustrates
a number of what, by the end of the performance, will be seen
to be important characteristics. Maltman’s tone is firm
and well- focused; there’s evident care for the words.
A definite partnership and shared understanding between himself
and Graham Johnson is readily apparent. The tempo, while far
from sluggish, is relaxed - here Maltman and Johnson refuse
to be hurried and we shall find this tendency in several other
songs as the performance unfolds.
I like the imaginative way that Maltman deploys vocal colouring,
often lightening his tone for expressive ends. This is noticeable
in ‘Kriegers Ahnung’, for instance. Appropriately,
after ‘Liebesbotschaft’, he switches to a darker
timbre for the first stanza of this second song, then the tone
is lighter, the mood more wistful in the next verse before darker
The performance of the famous ‘Ständchen’ is
steady and sounds somewhat autumnal while the reading of ‘Aufenthalt’
is, as Hilary Finch comments in the booklet, “darkly introspective”.
Maltman takes this song at a steadier pace than I’ve heard
in some performances. Furthermore, he contains the emotions
- very effectively. The reading is not as overtly dramatic as
one sometimes hears but at the end of the fourth stanza there’s
the requisite vocal and emotional power. I’ve heard some
singers make ‘Abschied’ sound relatively carefree
but Maltman isn’t one of them. I particularly liked his
gentle, rather wistful way with the fourth and sixth stanzas.
On to the deeper Heine settings, starting with ‘Der Atlas’.
This is powerfully done but not in an excessive way: Maltman
displays defiance in an impressive account of the song. In the
following song, ’Ihr Bild’ the mood he strikes is
one of withdrawn regret. His well- controlled singing makes
the passion with which he invests the last line all the more
‘Am Meer’ is given a magnetic performance. Here,
the way Maltman uses the upper register of his voice is very
impressive, especially in the first and third stanzas. Equally
impressive is his control of the line. The four quiet piano
chords that introduce ‘Der Doppelgänger’ are
full of foreboding. Both performers invest the first stanza
with a sense of oppressive stillness. They make the following
verse terrifically tense without any unnecessary histrionics
and then, as the song reaches its dénouement there’s
just the right level of intensity. ‘Die Taubenpost’
is given a reading that, on the surface, is relaxed and lyrical.
It’s a subtle performance and it’s tinged with that
sense of ‘sehnsucht’ which finally comes out in
the final stanza, especially the second time round.
There are two encores. First Maltman and Johnson offer another
Rellstab setting, ‘Herbst’. Hilary Finch comments
that this song is often sung as an encore to Schwanengesang;
indeed, I recall that Peter Schreier and András Schiff
actually inserted the song into the Rellstab group on their
CD of Schwanengesang. It’s done with fine expression
by Christopher Maltman. The second extra item is quite substantial
for an encore; the performance of ‘Die Winterabend’
takes over seven minutes. This is a song from 1827 to which
Graham Johnson provides an excellent spoken introduction, stressing
the idea of ‘sehnsucht’ that links back to Schwanengesang.
It’s a gentle, wistful song and the performance is lovely:
Maltman once again sings with fine, even tone and shows his
ability to spin a long vocal line while Graham Johnson’s
accompaniment seems absolutely right in every respect.
The first two volumes in this Schubert mini-series were extremely
satisfying and the final instalment is no less rewarding. On
these three CDs Christopher Maltman confirms that he is one
of the most impressive baritone exponents of art songs currently
before the public and, of course, he is partnered by one of
the finest accompanists of our day, one who is steeped in Schubert’s
lieder. Though there are many excellent CD versions of Schwanengesang
in the catalogue this one joins the ranks of the very best.
The concert at which this recording was made was reviewed
for MusicWeb International Seen and Heard by Mark Berry.
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