Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Ladies Only – Love and Lament
Nienke Oostenrijk (soprano); Marianne Boer (piano)
rec. Westvest90-Hall, Schiedam, 24-26 November 2015
Sung texts enclosed
“I am most grateful for all [Schubert’s] female wanderings and confessions. He entrusted much of his own internal complaints and despair to female protagonists in his songs during his creative life.” So writes Nienke Oostenrijk in the liner notes to this disc. It was an inspired idea to devote this release to songs where women express their feelings. It is true that all the poems, bar three, were written by men but they may still reveal insights into the female world of thinking. The three exceptions are Suleika I and II and Der Vollmond strahlt. The first two were published under Goethe’s name, but they were actually written by Marianne von Willemer (1884 – 1860), a woman with whom Goethe had a brief relationship in 1815. Der Vollmond strahlt is not strictly a Lied, it is a romanze from Schubert’s incidental music to Rosamunde, a play by Wilhelmine von Chézy (1783 – 1856). The play was a flop and has been lost but Schubert’s music was preserved and the romanze is one of his finest creations.

The songs are presented in chronological order, beginning with the Goethe setting Gretchen am Spinnrade, which Nienke Oostenrijk calls his first great song and even “the first modern German song”. Composed in October 1814 by the 17-year-old Schubert it is a fascinating start of an almost 11-year-long journey through his female songs and we can follow his development, though admittedly we start at a very high level. On the way we encounter some old friends like those already mentioned, Ave Maria and Die junge Nonne, but the majority of the songs are relative rarities. Some songs have divided connoisseurs’ opinions, for instance the long (19 verses) Viola. Graham Johnson has described the through-composed song in lyrical terms while Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau dismisses it as “a comical biology-lesson and an over-ambitious musical gewgaw”. Nienke Oostenrijk is firmly on Johnson’s side in her exhaustive analysis. Her detailed commentaries to each song are in fact exemplary and I am full of admiration. There are many hours of hard work and reflection behind this.

Unfortunately I can’t be so enthusiastic about her singing. Her voice has a timbre reminiscent of a boy soprano, rather pale and thin and there is little variation in vocal colour. Occasionally there is a sense of insecure intonation and at forte an unbeautiful vibrato sometimes creeps in. There is no doubt about her deep insight into the songs and her phrasing is impeccable, but she doesn’t communicate; I feel some kind of wall between us. Marianne Boer accompanies well and her excellent pianism can be admired not least in the dramatic Die junge Nonne. The recording favours the piano a little too much.

The concept is excellent, the booklet commentaries are worth a big bouquet of roses but the singing is unfortunately not up to the mark.

Göran Forsling

Track Listing
1. Gretchen am Spinnrade D126 [3:51]
2. Gretchens Bitte D564 [3:37]
3. Arietta di Claudine: Liebe schwärmt auf allen Wegen D239 [1:13]
4. Kolmas Klage D217 [5:52]
5. Iphigenia D573 [3:08]
6. Suleikas erster Gesang D720 [5:29]
7. Suleikas zweiter Gesang D717 [4:10]
8. Viola D786 [13:35]
9. Romanze der Axa: Der Vollmond strahlt D797 [3:34]
10. Ellens erster Gesang D837 [7:32]
11. Ellens zweiter Gesang D838 [3:23]
12. Ellens dritter Gesang: Ave Maria D839 [6:21]
13. Die junge Nonne D828 [4:21]
14. Lied der Anne Lyle D830 [3:35]
15. Delphine D857 [4:46]

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