The Art of Lied
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Schwanengesang, D. 957 [51:10]
Im Gegenwärtigen Vergangenes, D. 710* [6:03]
Nachtelle D. 892* [5:16]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Dichterliebe Op. 48 (excerpts) ** [18:55]
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
Mörike-Lieder (excerpts)*** [37:55]
Werner Gura (tenor); Cristoph Berner (piano)
*RIAS Kammerchor/Marcus Creed
*Philip Mayers (piano); ** ***Jan Schulsz (piano)
rec. May 2006, Salle du Reitstadel, Neumarkt Oberpfaltz; * May 1998, Christuskirche, Berlin-Oberschöneweide;**October 2001, Vereenidge Doopsgezinde Gemeente, Haarlem (NL);*** November-December 2004, Salle du Reitstadel, Neumarkt Oberpfaltz
Texts and translations not included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMX 2908460.61 [62:24 + 56:59]

This set usefully gathers together a selection of lieder recordings made by the German tenor, Werner Gura, between 1998 and 2006. The quality of the singer’s voice seems pretty consistent over this span of eight years
The oldest recordings are the two Schubert items that act as ‘fillers’ on the first disc. To be frank, neither is amongst Schubert’s most memorable compositions and the very obviously church acoustic, with its resonance, isn’t ideal for this repertoire, nor is the fact that the singers are rather set back from the microphones, but the performances are good. Uniquely in this collection the accompaniment is played on an instrument of the period, a Viennese piano which dates from about 1825.
There’s much greater musical interest in Schwanengesang, in which Gura is accompanied on a modern grand piano. Gura’s tenor is essentially light, ideally suited to Mozart, I suspect, though that’s not to say that there’s not steel in the tone when required nor that the voice lacks body. In fact, it’s a good Schubertian voice. He’s also capable of spinning a good vocal line, as he demonstrates throughout these two discs. Good examples of this ability occur in ‘Ihr Bild’ and ‘Am Meer’ and are far from isolated instances. His light, easy tone is a pleasure to hear in ‘Liebesbotschaft’ and he delivers the famous ‘Ständchen’ well. He’s capable of urgency, though, as in ‘Frülingssehnsucht’ and when we move to the darker Heine settings he has sufficient vocal weight to deliver a dramatic account of ‘Der Atlas’. He makes a good job of ‘Die Stadt’ without being as daring as some singers I’ve heard. Again, in that chilling masterpiece, ‘Der Doppelgänger’ he brings intensity to his singing though he doesn’t make it the riveting experience that it is with, say. Peter Schreier (Decca).
Moving to Schumann’s Heine cycle from which Gura offers ten of the sixteen songs, the singer is light and wistful in ‘Im wunderschönen Monat Mai’ to which his voice is well suited. Later on in the cycle I admired the control he demonstrates in spinning an expansive line during ‘Ich hab im Traum geweinet’ and to conclude the cycle he delivers a strong, defiant account of ‘Die alten, bösen lieder’. Perhaps others have penetrated deeper below the surface of these songs but still Gura’s is a performance that I enjoyed. I believe that the omission of six songs may have been the result of shortage of space on the original release.
He and Jan Schulsz give us a selection of eighteen songs from the fifty-three that comprise Wolf’s Mörike-Lieder and I think their selection is well suited to Gura’s voice. In Wolf the emotions can change within just a few bars during a song – ‘Denk’es, o Seele’ offers such an example – and Gura seems well attuned to these changes and capable of doing justice to them. Several of the chosen songs are quite light in character and tone – the opening ‘Fußreise, for example. This is just the sort of song that, by now, one has come to expect Gura to deliver pleasingly, and he does. At the other end of the Wolf selection, however, he proves capable of giving a bitingly dramatic reading of ‘Der Feuerreiter’ – Wolf’s ‘Erlkönig’? – while fining back his tone significantly so as to end the song in subdued intensity. In between, we hear some beautiful and eloquent singing in ‘Auf ein altes Bild’ and, by contrast, some powerful emotions in ‘Verborgenheit’.
Throughout this collection Werner Gura receives sound support from his various pianists. I’m not quite sure at whom this collection is aimed. Seasoned collectors, acquiring it to hear Gura, will quite possibly have other versions of these lieder in their collection and thus ready access to texts and translations. The fairly general nature of the notes will also not be a problem. However, anyone selecting this set as part of the way in to the riches of the lieder repertoire may find that the rather basic documentation and, in particular the lack of texts and translations is a handicap. Nonetheless, there is much to enjoy here.
John Quinn

There is much to enjoy here.

Masterwork Index: Schwanengesang ~~ Dichterliebe