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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Vor meiner Wiege D 927 [5:11]
Der Kreuzzug D 932 [3:23]
Des Fischers Liebesglück D 933 [7:46]
Der Winterabend D938 [7:35]
Die Sterne D939 [3:16]
Schwanengesang D957 [47:59]
Andreas Schmidt (baritone)
Rudolf Jansen (piano)
rec. January 1992, Kleiner Kammermusiksaal, Sender Freies Berlin
Sung texts with French and English translations enclosed
Presto CD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 437 536-2 [75:17]

Contrary to Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, Schwanengesang is not a cycle in the true meaning of the word. The title was invented by the publisher Tobias Haslinger, who also decided the order of the songs when they were published after Schubert’s death: seven songs by Ludwig Rellstab, six by Heinrich Heine and one by Johann Gabriel Seidl. And that order has become established both in recital and on records. Once or twice there have been amendments that have worked well. I’m thinking of Thomas Oliemans’s recording from 2010, where he between the Rellstab and Heine songs inserted four songs to texts by Ernst Konrad Friedrich Schulze. Those songs were roughly contemporaneous with the Rellstab and Heine songs and the juxtaposition worked eminently well. I have several times returned to that recording. Now it turns out that Oliemans had predecessors as early as 1992. I never heard the present DG recording when it was new, but it is also a worthy alternative to the established order.

Andreas Schmidt has drastically dispensed with Seidl’s Die Taubenpost, which obviously was not composed at the same time as the Rellstab and Heine songs and on a different type of paper. He also believes that Schubert intended the other songs to be performed in the established order, since only the first page of the group is dated. That is especially relevant for the Rellstab songs. The Heine songs have been regrouped and here follow the order ‘proposed by the poet’. Like Oliemans Schmidt has also amended the ‘cycle’ with an extra group of five songs to texts by Karl Gottfried von Leitner, which are placed before the Rellstab songs. Schmidt elaborates on this in the liner notes, where also Susan Youens writes at length on the individual songs.

As for Andreas Schmidt he had an important career towards the end of the 20th century that also spilled over to the present millennium. Born in Düsseldorf in 1960 he studied singing with Ingeborg Reichelt and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, which should be a good basis for a career as Lieder singer. He made his operatic debut in 1984 at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, which was to become his home stage for years to come, but he also appeared as guest in many European houses and also at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His discography encompasses among other things operas, music by Bach and in the field of art songs the complete songs by Brahms (together with Juliane Banse, Iris Vermillion and Helmut Deutsch), Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin and Mahler-Lieder.

Schmidt has become known for his non-interventionistic readings – as opposed to his teacher Fischer-Dieskau, who in particular in later years sometimes marred the vocal line through overemphasis of words and exaggerated word-painting. I have always been an admirer of F-D for his deep intellect and insight in the poems – and of course his musicality – but sometimes he gave way to over-seasoning of his dishes. Not so Andreas Schmidt. He is careful with words, his enunciation is exemplary and listeners with some knowledge of German can often grasp the words without resorting to the printed text. But he is also careful with the musical line and his legato singing is admirable. In the opening song, Vor meiner Wiege, he demonstrates that: beautiful, rather restrained singing, seemingly letting the music speak for itself without ‘interpretation’, but his phrasing and unobtrusive involvement makes the listener part of the experience. A discreet crescendo in the 4th stanza makes the listener focus on the premonition of the poet’s departure in the line ‘where shall I find such a peaceful abode again? Perhaps when the green grass is my roof.’

He also tells the story of the monk in Der Kreuzzug, a song that became a favourite very early in F-D’s 1950s recording with Gerald Moore. Here Schmidt’s teacher is his obvious model: the same impeccable legato, the same restraint – he relates the story simply and honestly. The same goes for Des Fischers Liebesglück: natural and simple but with well-judged ritardandi on key phrases. And Rudolf Jansen follows him discreetly but observant. In Der Winterabend they catch the ebb and flow of the music when Jansen in the short interludes works up the tension. The last of the five Leitner songs is livelier and more eager and it is performed with rhythmic elán.

The same forward movement also characterises Rellstab’s Liebesbotschaft, which makes the Schwanengesang proper feel organically connected with the Leitner group. The sombre tones of the intro to Kriegers Ahnung brings the listener to a darker milieu, and here Schmidt adopts a plangent tone hitherto absent his farewell Herzliebste – gute Nacht is deeply touching. Frühlingssehnsucht, on the other hand, is almost hectic, frenetic. The well-known and beautiful Ständchen follows as balm for the agitated feelings. Hörst die Nachtigalle schlagen? asks the poet (Do you hear the nightingales singing?), and he answers himself: Ah, they are crying to you; with their songs of sweet complaint they are weeping for me. It is beautifully sung but there is a tear in the voice. And the song ends, warmly and appealingly: trembling I am waiting for you! Come, make me happy!
There are strong feelings on display and Andreas Schmidt is so sensitive. Aufenthalt is stormy and intense but never over-the-top; In der Fremde expresses longing, desperation but in the end resignation. As a contrast Abschied is light-hearted and almost jolly.

In the established version of Schwanengesang this is followed by the dark, sorrowful Der Atlas but in this revised order Das Fischermädchen retains some of the lightness, although there again is a tear in the voice in the final stanza. And the concluding five songs all express various stages of sorrow: Am Meer one of the most beautiful settings of that specific mood; Die Stadt is even deeper in its sorrow, the ghostly Der Doppelgänger displayed a tortured soul – masterly interpreted – Ihr Bild is all restrained despair and the thunderously intense Der Atlas brings the cycle to its end in almost unbearable despair. At least when Andreas Schmidt and Rudolf Jansen guide the listener through this involving music it feels like Der Atlas being the natural concluding climax.

I have several dozen marvellous recordings of Schwanengesang but having sat through this séance I feel that it surpasses them all. It will at any rate be one of a few selected candidates whenever I want to hear Schwanengesang next time. A wholly engrossing reading!

Göran Forsling

Liebesbotschaft D 957 No. 1 [2:54]
Kriegers Ahnung D 957 No. 2 [5:29]
Frühlingssehnsucht D 957 No. 3 [3:34]
Ständchen D 957 No. 4 [4:23]
Aufenthalt D 957 No. 5 [2:54]
In der Ferne D 957 No. 6 [5:40]
Abschied D 957 No. 7 [4:30]
Das Fischermädchen D 957 No. 10 [2:07]
Am Meer D 957 No. 12 [3:39]
Die Stadt D 957 No. 11 [2:59]
Der Doppelgänger D 957 No. 13 [4:20]
Ihr Bild D 957 No. 9 [2:39]
Der Atlas D 957 No. 8 [2:50]

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