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Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Nachtviolen
see end of review for track-listing
Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Gerold Huber (piano)
rec. 20-24 July 2012, Studio 2, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich, Germany
SONY CLASSICAL 88883 712172 [76:53]

Elsewhere in these pages, I’ve already waxed lyrical about Christian Gerhaher as a singer of both lieder and opera. Here isn’t the place to repeat myself: suffice to say that I heard nothing on this disc to make me change my mind. All of his greatest assets are on display here, and he remains a singer to marvel at. First of all there is his infinitely responsive vocal tone, alive to every nuance, and then his deeply felt sensitivity to the words and meanings of the poets, as refracted through Schubert’s music.

It is typically ambitious to begin with An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht, a large-scale meditation on man's place in the universe, which gives Gerhaher a chance to show off his unrivalled technique, both in terms of his vocal painting and his use of the words to inform his choice of colour. It's a remarkable achievement, nurtured all the way through by the sensationally warm colour of his voice which, for me, is pretty close to the ideal of Schubert singing.

That happens again and again, throughout the disc. Sometimes the keynote is beauty, as in Abschied which is full of the most delicately expressed heartache, or Lied eines Schiffers, which exudes quiet confidence and glorious tonal colour. Sometimes there is peace and positivity, as in Nach einem Gewitter, which is utterly charming and exemplifies all that is positive about Schubert. Similarly, the Wayfarer of D.649 carries only a small portion of the sadness of Schubert's wanderers: this one seems strangely unencumbered and content with his lot, certainly when you compare him to the traveller of Winterreise. Likewise, the Wanderer of D.870 moves from sadness about the loss of his homeland to envy of the moon who is at home wherever he goes, and reaches a satisfyingly positive conclusion.

At other times, however, darkness and turbulence break through, but they always do so with poetic sensitivity. An die Nachtigall is a classic song of love-sick longing while, in Wehmut, the storm music in the piano stands for the poet’s reaction to loss in the world. The lurid piano and breathless excitement of the narrative lift Der Zwerg above the simple boundaries of Gothic horror. Even in the drama of Herbst, there is not a hint of melodrama: instead it's as if we're eavesdropping on a personal meditation or the most intimate form of performance.

I could go through every song and pick out virtues, but it’s clear enough that this is a disc to cherish. My only quibble is that the programming seemed a little quixotic. There was little to suggest why the songs were chosen, and there were some rather stark changes of mood between many of them in a way that, unlike his earlier Abendbilder, makes the disc seem a bit like a pot-pourri rather than a curated exploration of an avenue of Schubert’s output.

This is a small thing in comparison with the many virtues, though. This is another feather in Gerhaher’s cap, and Huber’s accompaniments are never anything other than supportive and appropriate. The recorded sound is warmly balanced and beautifully captured. The booklet notes — which include texts and translations — are written in a style that is both scholarly and accessible.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Michael Cookson

Track-listing
1. An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht, D614 (1818) [8:01]
2. Hoffnung, D295 (1816) [1:26]
3. Im Janner 1817 (Tiefes Leid), D876 (c. 1826) [2:41]
4. Abschied, D475 (1816) [5:09]
5. Herbst, D945 (1828) [3:34]
6. Uber Wildemann, D884 (1826) [2:21]
7. Der Wanderer, D649 (1819) [2:23]
8. Der Wanderer an den Mond, D870 (1826) [2:26]
9. Der Zwerg, D771 (c. 1822/23) [4:54]
10. Abendstern, D806 (1824) [2:08]
11. Im Walde, D843 (1825) [5:09]
12. Nach einem Gewitter, D561 (1817) [1:33]
13. Der Schiffer, D694 (1820) [3:11]
14. An die Nachtigall, D196 (1815) [1:55]
15. Totengräber-Weise, D869 (1826) [5:12]
16. Fruhlingsglaube, D686 (1820) [3:16]
17. Nachtviolen, D752 (1822) [2:35]
18. Abendlied für die Entfernte, D856 (1825) [5:14]
19. Wehmut, D772 (c. 1822/23) [2:24]
20. Der Strom, D565 (1817) [1:31]
21. Der Hirt, D490 (1816) [2:17]
22. Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren, D360 (1822) [2:27]
23. Nachtgesang, D314 (1815) [1:40]
24. Der Sänger am Felsen, D482 (1816) [3:06]