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Father and Son: Songs arranged for two tenors
Duets by Silcher, Schubert, Zilcher, Brahms, Schumann, Bresgen and Anon.
See full track-listing and timings below
Christoph and Julian Prégardien (tenors), Michael Gees (piano)
Fabienne Waga, Patricia Messner (harmonicas)
rec. 2014, Evangelisch-Lutherse kerk, Haarlem, Netherlands

‘Father and Son’ features the great tenor Christoph Prégardien and his son Julian. They perform a generous selection of arrangements for two voices and piano of songs by some of the great lieder composers, and some by less familiar figures. The pianist is a regular accompanist of Christoph Prégardien, Michael Gees. The arrangers are these three performers themselves, apart from the Brahms and the five songs by the early 20th century German composer Herrman Zilcher written specifically for two tenors, in this case joined by a pair of harmonica players. Zilcher also did the Brahms arrangements. The booklet has brief contextual comments about their arrangements from Gees and the singers, though little about the composers and the music. There are though notes on the performers, and full texts and English translations.

Christoph Prégardien is very well known in lieder, especially for his magnificent series of Schubert recordings. In a recent interview, Ian Bostridge mentioned just two names of singers he regarded as exemplary Schubertians: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau – and Christoph Prégardien. Christoph’s son Julian is also a well established singer in his own right, especially on the continent as the Evangelist in Bach’s Passions. The Prégardiens père et fils have apparently been giving such recitals as this together for some years. So this material is not a set of curiosities assembled just for a recording. They are items that have been road-tested before live audiences, for whose fortunate members this fine-sounding SACD will be a welcome souvenir. It should be welcome for the rest of us too, for it is delightful throughout.

We know that Schubert adapted his solo songs when performing in specific social settings, so that more than one singer could contribute. There is even evidence that he took part in a performance of Erlkönig with separate roles for different singers, himself singing the father’s verses. This great song, with its dialogue form and three ‘voices’, is ideal for this approach, and receives a tremendous performance here. There is the added realism of the son’s terrified cries of “Mein Vater, mein Vater” being addressed by Julian to his real father. This group of a dozen Schubert items are the heart of the disc, feature some of his most celebrated songs, and are artfully arranged. Sometimes they draw out what is implicit in the music, or add subtle melodic decoration in the way Schubert might have expected. Christoph has done this in recital, as in his memorable performance of Die schöne Müllerin as part of the complete Schubert songs at the Oxford Lieder Festival in 2014. Julian’s excellent voice blends well and bears a family likeness – for once the cliché of ‘a shared DNA’ is exactly right. The son has the more youthful timbre – it is always clear which Prégardien is singing any solo line. For me the highlights of the group are Im Abendrot, a rapturously pantheistic hymn of praise to some Caspar David Friedrich-tinted sunset glow, and Auf dem Wasser zu singen, distinguished by an all-important ‘lift’ to the rhythm within its flowing serenity.

Alongside the Schubert lieder that dominate the recital, the Prégardiens have chosen a selection of songs by one of his contemporaries, Friedrich Silcher, as well as four works by Brahms and one by Schumann. The four Silcher songs open the disc, a perfect introduction and foil to the Schubert, and while they hardly approach his quality, they have a charm of their own. The Five Duets Op.109 by Zilcher omit the piano and occasionally deploy instead an exotic pair of harmonicas, which nonetheless leave the voices unaccompanied much of the time. Here the Prégardiens excel both in a raucously boozy ‘round the campfire’ manner in Der betrunkene Sternseher, (The Drunken Stargazer) as well as in the evocative serenity of the ensuing Herder and Goethe settings. Zilcher’s duet arrangements of the short Brahms group that follows sound completely idiomatic and are fairly discreet - the Prégardiens’ own arrangements of the Schubert songs take a bit more risk with those great favourites perhaps. All these, and the three single items that close the disc, are characterised by the duettists and their excellent accompanist with just the right sense of an overheard domestic entertainment, rather than any pious reverence owed to the highest art. This requires the highest skill to bring off.

Roy Westbrook
Full Track-listing
Friedrich SILCHER (1789-1860)
Frisch gesungen [2:15]
Ännchen von Tharau [1:51]
O wie herbe ist das Scheiden [2:09]
Loreley [2:15]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Erlkönig [4:24]
Wanderers Nachtlied [2:10]
Zum Rundtanz [1:56]
Die Nacht [2:36]
Im Abendrot [3:13]
Fischers Liebesglück [4:10]
Auf dem Wasser zu singen [3:21]
Der Zwerg [4:57]
Meeres Stille [2:28]
Widerspruch [2:18]
Licht und Liebe [3:43]
Nacht und Träume [3:37]
Hermann ZILCHER (1881-1949)
Five Duets for two voices and two harmonicas in C, Op.109
Frühlingsstrophe [2:00]
Der betrunkene Sternseher [2:49]
Ein Traum ist unser Leben [4:05]
Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh [2:38]
Guter Rat [1:20]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Die Sonne scheint nicht mehr [1:33]
In stiller Nacht [2:19]
Erlaube mir, feins Mädchen [1:10]
Da unten im Tale [1:47]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Nachtlied [2:11]
Weißt du, wieviel Sternlein stehen (German Folksong) [1:56]
Cesar BRESGEN (1913-1988)
O du stille Zeit [2:40]