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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Am Bach im Frühling D361 [3:52]
Der Wanderer an den Mond D870 [2:04]
Im Freien D880 [5:32]
Geheimes D719 [1:48]
Das Lied im Grünen D917 [5:31]
Fischerweise D881 [3:24]
Verklärung D59 [3:38]
An den Tod D518 [3:04]
Der Zwerg D771 [5:37]
An die Leier D737 [3:37]
Gruppe aus dem Tartarus D583 [2:52]
Memnon D541 [4:16]
Alinde D904 [4:06]
Der Kampf D594 [5:16]
Die Gebüsche D646 [2:59]
Im Abendrot D799 [3:38]
Wiedersehen D855 [2:14]
Die Taubenpost D965a [3:35]
Benjamin Appl (baritone); Graham Johnson (piano)
rec. live, 27 March 2015, Wigmore Hall, London
German texts and English translations included

I’ve heard the young German baritone, Benjamin Appl several times on radio but never, I think, on CD. He’s yet another artist whose career has been given a boost by selection for the BBC New Generation Artists scheme; he’s been a participant between 2014 and 2016. One thing that I was unaware of until reading his biography in the booklet is that he has the distinction of being the last private pupil of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. How fitting, then, that this live recital disc should be devoted to Schubert, in whose Lieder Appl’s one-time teacher so excelled.

I’m not sure if there is any particular theme to the programme – none is mentioned in the excellent notes by Richard Stokes – but the programme is divided into three groups. The first ends with Der Zwerg; the last song in the second section is Memnon; and the published programme concludes with Im Abendrot – the remaining songs are encores.

Appl sings impressively. His diction is admirably clear throughout. The sheer sound of his voice gives great pleasure; the tone is consistently rounded and unforced. Am Bach im Frühling, for example, is one of many songs to benefit from his smooth, round tone while the expert, delicate piano playing of Graham Johnson evidences complete understanding of Schubertian style. Appl’s easy and unaffected delivery of Das Lied im Grünen is very pleasing. He doesn’t seek to ‘do’ too much with the song, still less to interpose himself between the listener and the song. That last comment, however, should not be taken to imply a bland delivery for such is not the case, either in this song or elsewhere though I did feel that as the recital unfolded Appl sounded increasingly free in his way with the songs and more ready to deploy a good range of vocal colouring. Maybe that impression, if it is accurate, is more a reflection on the chosen songs than an indication of Appl growing into the recital.

He gives a hearty and happy rendition of Fischerweise. Earlier, in Der Wanderer an den Mond the protagonist has a decided spring in his step and though that’s pleasing in its own way the delivery doesn’t really make the song sound “intimate”, a description applied by Richard Stokes in his notes.

The text of An den Tod may seem a bit overwrought but it is, after all, a reflection by the poet Christian Friedrich Schubart on ten years that he’d spent in prison for writing in disobliging terms about the Duke of Württemberg and his mistress. The song is powerfully projected by Appl. In Der Zwerg I admire the vivid fashion in which he relates the tale, especially from the third stanza onwards.

The brief, tension-filled piano introduction to Gruppe aus dem Tartarus sets the stage for an intense performance. Appl and Johnson build the piece impressively to a potent climax on the last two lines of the poem. In a very different fashion both musicians convey well the easy lilt of Alinde. I loved Appl’s expansive, lyrical singing in Die Gebüsche while Appl and Johnson’s expertly controlled account of the sunset song, Im Abendrot is an ideal way to finish the official programme.

In the first encore, Wiedersehen, I relished the legato quavers in the vocal part while the tiny piano postlude is delicious. Delicious, too, is the relaxed performance of Die Taubenpost; this comes after particularly vociferous applause.

This is a thoroughly engaging Schubert recital. The disc confirms that Benjamin Appl is an exciting young talent. I don’t know if this was his Wigmore Hall debut but he could scarcely have wished for a more perceptive and experienced partner than Graham Johnson, whose playing delights throughout the programme.

The recorded sound is excellent, as has always been the case with recordings I’ve heard from this label. Exactly the same comment can be made of the documentation. Apart from their justifiable applause at the end of each group of songs you wouldn’t know the audience was present.

John Quinn

Previous review: Simon Thompson



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