Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Nine Songs to Poems of Ernst Schulze:
Auf der Bruck D853 [3:20]
Der liebliche Stern D861 [2:50]
Im Walde D834 [4:55]
Um Mitternacht D862 [5:02]
Lebensmuth D883 [3:36]
Im Frühling D882 [4:34]
An mein Herz D860 3:04
Tiefes Leid D876 (Im Jänner 1817) [3:26]
Über Wildemann D884 [2:07]
Eight Songs to Favourite Poets:
Daß sie hier gewesen D775 (Rückert) [3:18]
Greisengesang D778 (Rückert) [5:32]
Du bist die Ruh D776 (Rückert) [4:19]
Im Walde (Waldesnacht) D708 (Schlegel) [6:41]
Nacht und Träume D827 (Collin) [3:19]
Fischerweise D881 (Schlechta) [3:02]
Totengräbers Heimweh D842 (Craigher) [6:44]
Der Winterabend D938 (Leitner) [6:41]
Christoph Prégardien (tenor)
Julius Drake (piano)
rec. Galaxy Studios, Mol, Belgium 18-21 February 2015.
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72670 SACD [72:39]
Schubert’s nine late songs to poems by Ernst Schulze (1789-1817) form a fairly coherent group and come from just before Winterreise. The texts have their origin in Schulze’s failed wooing of Cäcilie Tychsen who, when she died of tuberculosis aged 18, became his lost muse. He then pursued her sister Adelheid with no more success. But from 1813 until his early death (also of tuberculosis), Schulze used these mainly imagined relationships in the 100 poems of his Poetisches Tagebuch (or 'Verse Diary'). Schubert made his nine settings between March 1825 and March 1826 and they can be seen almost as a cycle. Graham Johnson in volume 18 of the Hyperion complete edition allocated them as a set to Peter Schreier no less (and even gave them a group title). That is the way Prégardien and Drake present them here also, although in a different sequence, that of the order of composition as is usual.
These songs are often obsessive, using repeated figures, being ‘modified strophic’ in the late manner, and concerned with longing and loss, as if they formed a ‘proto-Winterreise'. Two of them at least count as recital favourites, 'Im Frühling' and 'Auf Der Bruck'. The latter opens the set and the disc and makes a very stirring start, with its horse ride represented by nearly 150 bars of repeated quavers in the right hand, which Gerald Moore found even more tiring than ‘Erlkonïg’. Drake and Prégardien set a fast tempo and take only 3:20 for the whole song, compared to 4.44 for Johnson and Schreier – and they do not sound particularly cautious. Prégardien can articulate the words well even at this speed, but is slightly taxed here and in ‘Über Wildemann’ when having to throw off higher notes at speed. But here that actually adds to the sense of desperation the song needs. ‘Im Frühling’ is beautifully done, and if Prégardien’s tenor has not quite the bloom of his many earlier lieder discs, the voice remains a very attractive instrument. His poised vocal line and sensitivity to words is intact too, as we can hear for example in ‘Um Mitternacht”.
Among other tenors tackling these Schulze settings as a group, Schreier’s Hyperion disc still stands out as one of the best, (see the relevant section of the series retrospective appraisal here). His voice was still fresh at that recording date (1992) and he has the inimitable Graham Johnson as accompanist – and of course in the initial CD issues the writer of the fullest and finest booklet notes ever given to any classical CDs. Among the lower voices, the Naxos series has Hanno Müller-Brachmann, the distinguished bass-baritone, and Ulrich Eisenlohr is his pianist - and series mastermind, effectively to Naxos what Johnson is to Hyperion (review here). That too is very persuasive. But Prégardien yields little to either in skill and understanding, and Drake is no less impressive in support and, when required, taking the lead.
The second half of their recital is well planned, as it follows the strophic settings of Schulze with a more through-composed group, from different poets, commencing with three Rückert settings. ‘Dass sie hier gewesen’ and ‘Greisengesang’ demonstrate what a range of vocal colour Prégardien possesses, and his ability to match colour to text. He has the true lieder singer’s mastery of detail, but never sounds fussy. The third Rückert setting is ‘Du bist die Ruh’ which Johnson in his incomparable book on the Schubert songs describes simply as “one of the most famous songs in the world and one of the most difficult to sing.” After distilling the quasi-religious sense of peace in the opening stanzas Prégardien tackles the notorious rising sequence on “erhellt” (high F, then G, then A flat) with good control - and great ardour, as surely the composer intended. After two more strongly contrasted favourites, ‘Nacht und Träume’ and ‘Fischerweise’, the recital ends reflectively with ‘Der Winterabend’. It makes a coolly satisfying close to a very satisfying and substantial recital. The SACD sound is realistic, doing full justice to the piano as well as the voice, and the texts and translations are very clearly laid out. The fine booklet note is by that great authority on, and translator of, these songs, Richard Wigmore.