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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Wanderers Nachtlied
Matthias Goerne Schubert Lieder Edition: Volume 8
Full track-list at end of review
Matthias Goerne (baritone)
Helmut Deutsch (piano - CD 1); Eric Schneider (piano - CD 2)
rec, February and April 2011 (CD 1), June 2011 and February 2012 (CD 2), Teldex Studio Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902109.10 [68:38 + 61:58]

There is a predominantly dark feeling to the latest release in Matthias Goerne’s Schubert cycle, as befits the “Night Song” of the title. The songs tend to deal with mortality and farewells, but the artists that come together to assay them give us portrayals that are never morose but instead are thoughtful, insightful and deeply sensitive. Listening to the two discs together is not an altogether cheerful experience but a very profound one which left me very moved.
The opening song showcases the sensational legato that Goerne can bring to a vocal line, seeming to mirror in sound the very process of the setting sun about which he is singing. The sound manages to combine the episodic nature of the verses with the static contemplation of nature, and is a good showcase of variety to get the set going. Death and the Maiden is very beautiful. Deutsch’s opening piano line, so familiar from the String Quartet, is beautifully still, poignant in its solemnity, and Goerne brilliantly captures both the panic of the young girl’s voice and the dark, unarguable but reassuring figure of Death, who offers release from the world’s cares. Die Rose charts the brief flowering of a rose on a sunny day, who knows that she must die because of the conditions in which she flowers, and Erinnerung develops into a beautiful last stanza which looks to peace in a new world. The Litany for All Soul’s Day rests in a peaceful legato that never breaks out of its slow opening time signature, and Goerne’s voice, similarly, stays in a gentle pianissimo throughout, almost as an affected tribute to the souls of whom he is singing. All the while, Deutsch’s accompaniment gently undulates beneath the vocal line, serving as a bed of blissful sound on which to support the singer, and the effect is serenely hypnotic.
If Auf dem Wasser zu singen initially sounds like lighter relief then the effect is deceptive. The barcarolle-type accompaniment shelters words that sing of evening dancing around the boat of the soul and the hope of escaping the vagaries of time on lofty wings. Abendbilder moves at a gentle but insistent pace, each stanza seeming to bring a new revelation in the mind of the singer, until the final verse seeks rest and looks forward to the day of resurrection, and it is at this point that Goerne’s voice really flowers, finding a new well of feeling that had previously been absent; it’s a very moving effect. Nach einem Gewitter is a gentle piece of nature painting that serves as an interlude before the gothic horror of Der Zwerg. Its jittery piano accompaniment keeps the listener’s nerves jangling throughout, and Goerne manages miraculously to personify the queen, the dwarf and the observer with equal skill, sometimes pleading, sometimes breathless in his identification with the characters. After this, Im Frühling sounds like a gentle meditation, though the desperate melancholy of the subject matter is never far away.
I must admit I was left rather unmoved by Viola, the most substantial song on the set, for all that it is well sung and played, Goerne charting the tale of the violet’s early appearance in Spring and her subsequent pining away for loneliness. He injects a poignant sense of urgency to the artist’s search for his lost beloved in An die Entfernte and then finds a new feeling of optimism for the two songs that end the disc, both the hopefulness of Bei dir allein and the pantheistic hymn of Ganymed.
Eric Schneider takes over the pianistic honour for the second disc, which begins with the titular Wanderers Nachtlied, and the hymn-like chords that both announce and accompany it ground us firmly in Schubert and Goethe’s contemplation of mortality through nature. The Shepherd’s Lament is almost stunning in its bleakness, but there is then a charming naïveté to Heidenröslein and magnificent ambiguity to Rastlose Liebe, which cannot decide whether it is excited, optimistic or forlorn. An den Mond manages to combine stillness with quiet yearning, and in the dialogue song Trost in Tränen Goerne inhabits both personae convincingly, if without as much distinction as in, say, Der Zwerg. In marked contrast to Erster Verlust, Der Musensohn bounds across the stave with confidence, and introduces a more optimistic trio of songs that comes as a welcome sunny interlude, though the mood becomes serious again with An Schwager Kronos and its theme of Time as the coachman driving us towards the final inn of death. Geisternähe is a beautiful contemplation of the nearness of spirits, and Schneider’s gentle, undulating accompaniment is especially transfixing here. Das war ich introduces a section of gentler, more whimsical songs, until Die Liebe hat gelogen darkens the mood again, even if it is tempered with a spiritual sense of acceptance, and Dass sie hier gewesen is even more intense. The remarkable thing about Goerne’s singing in this sequence is the sense of gentleness, almost breathlessness with which he approaches each song, almost treating each as an individual act of mourning and drawing the listener as deeply into the sound world as it is possible to get. Even in the final two tracks there is a cloud: the folksy, winsome piano line of Der Einsame underpins a vocal line that sounds strangely weary, as if the artist is trying too hard to convince himself of the truth of his words, and the thoughtful rapture of Die Sterne is underpinned by a longing to flee from this world.
I struggled to believe that the discs were recorded in Berlin’s Teldex Studio: the echo and reverberation that the engineers have left around the song is much more reminiscent of a church or an empty concert hall. This is effective enough in its own way, though, and at times it seems almost to emphasise the isolation of the artist, singing into a void where there are no people to hear him, but just rebounding nature.
This is every bit as good as the previous volume in this series, and surely only helps to confirm that Goerne is one of the leading Schubert baritones of our (or perhaps any) age, with singing full of sensitivity to the vocal line, coupled with gentle care for the words. Why hesitate?

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Brian Wilson

Full track-list
CD 1
An die untergehende Sonne, D457 [6:38]
Der Tod und das Mädchen, D531 [2:24]
Die Rose, D745 [3:11]
Erinnerung (Totenopfer), D101 [2:17]
Litanei, D343 [7:54]
Auf dem Wasser zu singen, D774 [3:52]
Abendbilder, D650 [5:20]
Nach einem Gewitter, D561 [2:10]
Der Zwerg, D771 [5:29]
Im Frühling, D882 [4:17]
Die Blumensprache, D519 [2:05]
Viola, D786 [13:34]
An die Entfernte, D765 [2:52]
Bei dir allein, D866/2 [2:04]
Ganymed, D544 [4:21]
CD 2
Wanderers Nachtlied, D768 [2:27]
Schäfers Klagelied, D121 [3:56]
Heidenröslein, D257 [1:56]
Rastlose Liebe, D138 [1:19]
An den Mond, D259 [5:58]
Trost in Tränen, D120 [4:10]
Erster Verlust, D226 [2:12]
Der Musensohn, D764 [2:01]
Geheimes, D719 [1:44]
Versunken, D715 [2:02]
An Schwager Kronos, D369 [2:54]
Geisternähe, D100 [4:28]
Das war ich, D174 [2:49]
Das Rosenband, D280 [1:41]
Furcht der Geliebten, D285 [2:01]
An Sie, D288 [2:42]
Die Liebe hat gelogen, D751 [2:33]
Lachen und Weinen, D777 [1:46]
Dass sie hier gewesen, D775 [3:52]
Der Einsame, D800 [4:10]
Die Sterne, D684 [5:14]