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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Schubert’s Four Seasons

Sharon Carty (mezzo-soprano)
Jonathan Ware (piano)
Texts included
rec. 2019, Snape Maltings, UK
GENUIN GEN20697 [64:35]

This is yet another Schubert recital by yet another up-and-coming singer but I grabbed it from the review list the moment I saw Sharon Carty’s name. She impressed me and many others away at 2018’s Wexford opera festival, not only in William Bolcom’s underrated new opera Dinner at Eight but also in her solo recital which she ended with James Joyce’s only surviving composition, Bid Adieu to Girlish Things.

What a shame she did not record that for her debut. All the same, this is a well-planned hour of Schubert favourites that has quite a novel approach to programming. I have not encountered a seasonal approach to Schubert recitals before but it is an obvious hook to hang many of his best-known songs on. It is a very neat selection, bookended by the lengthy ballads, Viola and Klage der Ceres, and carrying Ancient Greek themes throughout.

We start with the lengthy ballad, Viola, Franz von Schober’s tragic tale of the Violet who waits too long for her bridegroom, Spring. Carty sustains this lengthy ballad well, subtly varying colour and not overdoing the whimsy. The Goethe setting, Ganymede sees the Spring enveloped Greek hero ascend to the heavens in a more positive take on the season.

Sommernacht is the logical choice next, a simple Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock setting of summer mourning for a deceased lover, amidst the perfumed pines and moonlight. Carty’s keen, girlish mezzo suits these songs best. Romanze is a piano reduction of a song from Schubert’s incidental music to Rosamunde. Its content better fits Spring but its luscious imagery of the moon and death makes it an obvious companion piece to Sommernacht.

Autumn’s arrival is heralded by An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht. This plangent poem of the moon’s ability to connect the narrator with distant friends and joys is delivered simply and sincerely in Carty’s bright tone; the final stanzas of evening and ageing is not overloaded but made more intimate.

There is a similar simplicity to Carty’s Litanei auf das Fest Allerseelen, written for Schubert’s first love, Therese Grob. Autumnal in feel if not in content, these verses of peaceful death lead pleasingly into the sombre opening chords of the bleaker Greisengesang, a perfect opener for Winter. The songs ideally need a darker, heavier voice than Carty’s (it is usually sung by bass) but she conjures the right sense of melancholy.

The following Der Winterabend is taken at a fairly slow pace but the sense of line and engagement is excellent. We end as we started, with an Ancient epic, this time Ceres’s Lament, a sprawling recitative ‘cantata’ that sees Spring reappear as the Roman goddess of motherhood (along with grains and agriculture, among other things). Poised yet animated, Carty carries this difficult piece well, holding on to its quicksilver changes of mood and register in Schiller’s text of maternal loss and nature’s rejuvenation.

Carty’s generally excellent diction can be submerged in this vocal halo but she has a light touch to these songs and is well supported by Jonathan Ware’s refined liquid accompaniment. Sound is too spacious for my liking. It robs Carty of clarity and adds too much distance to the listener. It is not a deal-breaker, though, and Genuin’s presentation is otherwise exemplary: full texts and translations, as well as a detailed essay on each song. We are knee-deep in good and great Schubert recitals but Carty’s light, agile mezzo deserves to stick out in a crowded field.

Barnaby Rayfield

1 Viola D.786 [13:36]
2 Ganymed D.544 [4:13]
3 Die Sommernacht D.289 [2:48]
4 Romanze D.797/3b [3:12]
5 An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht D.614 [7:44]
6 Litanei auf das Fest Allerseelen D.343 [4:20]
7 Greisengesang D.778 [4:58]
8 Der Winterabend D.938 [8:02]
9 Klage der Ceres D.323 [15:37]

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