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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Where Only Stars Can Hear Us
Karim Sulayman (tenor)
Yi-heng Yang (fortepiano)
rec. 2019, Dorothy Young Center for the Arts Concert Hall at Drew University, Madison, USA
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
AVIE AV2400 [67:18]

In his foreword to this collection Karim Sulayman focuses on a present-day phenomenon: we are so “connected” digitally but cut off from one another in real time. And this has further increased during the last couple of months once the Corona virus invaded our planet – a coincidence no doubt since Karim must have written his notes before the virus had reached us. He and pianist Yi-heng have strived to create their own song cycle, inspired by Schubert’s great cycles Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, mostly around the themes of night, the darkness that surrounds so many of us. And they start their journey at sea, with the rolling waves of Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren, the twin stars who literally are the only ones who can hear us in the midst of the ocean. In five sections, or pictures, we encounter loneliness in various disguises while we travel on – in the fourth picture by horse-back in the frightening Erlkönig. But in the final song this traveller finds comfort: the beloved wakes up from her slumber:
“She looked at me; with that gaze
her life was bound to mine,
and all around us was paradise.”
The poem is by Klopstock and readers with a good memory may remember that in Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther Charlotte mentions his name at that moment when Werther falls in love with her. Maybe it was this particular poem she referred to.

Many of the songs are from Schubert’s last few years but there are also a handful of earlier gems. One of them is Der Rosenband, written by a teenaged composer but not published until 1837. It is not one of Schubert’s most frequently heard songs and there are several others that also are relative rarities. What they all have in common is that they fit so well in this concept and that they are so good. Thus, to my mind, Yi-heng Yang and Karim Sulayman’s own Schubert journey is attractive and thought provoking and has enticed me to return to several of the songs already. That’s proof enough that it works both as a cycle and as individual songs.

As for the music making at large I have only positive things to say. Karim Sulayman has a well-schooled, flexible and beautiful lyric tenor voice at his disposal, with a rich and varied supply of nuances. His enunciation is impeccable, he is involved in what he is singing and he is a good story-teller. Listen to his Die Forelle, a song everybody has heard umpteen times, but his reading of it makes it come to new life. In the same section the lesser-known Des Fischers Liebesglück, with its staccato like text sung with the most excellent legato, will probably catch the interest from the outset through his involvement and curiosity – what comes next? – and towards the end absolutely enthralling soft singing. The third song in the group, Am Meer from Schwanengesang – one of the greatest and most touching songs Schubert ever penned – also shows that he has both power and intensity, but most of all involvement. And this is typical for the whole cycle: Each song is characterised according to its text and still one has a strong feeling that all eighteen constitute a unit. He juxtaposes the little known idyllic Der Vater mit dem Kind with the chilling thriller Erlkönig to staggering effect. In Goethe’s ballad he characterises the four “roles” extremely well without exaggerations and in particular the growing despair of the child is heart-rending to hear.

I could go on with detailed analyses of every song but find it unnecessary and leave it to the individual listener to explore the contents on their own and savour the exceptional sensitivity of Karim Sulayman and Yi-heng Yang. Now I’m eagerly waiting for their next recording project, which I hope will appear before long.

Göran Forsling

1. Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren D360 [3:22]
2. Die Sterne D939 [2:56]
3. Die Sternennächte D670 [3:12]
4. An die Laute D905 [1:30]
5. Alinde D904 [4:00]
6. Abends unter der Linde D235 [2:16]
7. An den Mond D193 [3:29]
8. Die Forelle D550 [2:14]
9. Des Fischers Liebesglück D933 [7:14]
10. Am Meer (Schwanengesang D957 No. 12) [4:12]
11. Abendbilder D650 [5:01]
12. Nacht und Träume D827 [3:47]
13. Der Vater mit dem Kind D906 [4:01]
14. Erlkönig D328 [4:07]
15. Der Winterabend D938 [7:18]
16. An den Mond D259 [3:14]
17. Nachtgesang D119 [3:35]
18. Das Rosenband D280 [1:40]

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