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Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Schwanengesang, D.957 (pub. posth.) [55:35]
String Quintet, D.956 (1828) [51:52]
Julian Prégardien (tenor)
Martin Helmchen (piano)
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
Florian Donderer (violin)
Rachel Roberts (viola)
Tanja Tetzlaff (cello)
Marie-Elisabeth Hecker (cello)
rec. June 2020 (songs) & October 2020 (quintet), Sendesaal Bremen (Germany)
Sung texts with English and French translations enclosed
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview
ALPHA 748 [61:22 + 51:52]

It is a well-known fact that Schwanengesang was not the title Schubert had chosen himself for the last group of songs he composed. It was Tobias Haslinger who, a couple of months after Schubert’s death, first published the songs under that title to underline that these were the last fruits of Schubert’s genius: seven settings of Ludwig Rellstab, six of Heinrich Heine and, possibly due to some superstition, he threw in a fourteenth song by Seidl, Die Taubenpost. This order has become the established one, even though there have been dissenting voices.

During the last few decades there have also been some recordings with a difference. The earliest, to my knowledge, was Andreas Schmidt in 1992, who cut out Die Taubenpost (which anyway has been regarded as the ugly duckling) and instead included five songs to texts by Leitner, placed before the Rellstab songs. Moreover, he restored the order of the Heine songs. In 2010 Thomas Oliemans presented another solution: he preserved the established order but between the Rellstab group and the Heine group he inserted four songs to texts by Ernst Konrad Friedrich Schulze. This also worked well. At about the same time Christoph Prégardien issued an even more drastically amended Schwanengesang. He included Rellstab’s Herbst before the “ordinary” seven Rellstab songs, and after Die Taubenpost he added another six Seidl songs.

When Prégardien Junior, Julian, introduces his vision of Schwanengesang he goes a step further. He remixes the order of the Rellstab songs, inserts one of Felix Mendelssohn’s most beautiful Lieder ohne Worte as an interlude, which is followed by the song Schwanengesang from 1822 (text Joh. Senn) after which the Heine group follows (in remixed order) and instead of Seidl’s Taubenpost he rounds off with Fanny Mendelssohn’s Schwanenlied (text Heine). The poem is beautiful and melancholy and comes as balm after the darkness of Der Atlas.

Julian Prégardien follows very much in his father’s footsteps. He is careful over nuances, and he radiates warmth. His singing is also natural, without exaggerated histrionics. His tone is youthful and light, but he can also generate deep intensity. What worries me a little is that the recording brings out the piano to the detriment of the singing. Some twiddling with the knobs couldn’t correct this entirely, even though lowering the bass a notch or two improved the balance somewhat. On the other hand, my ears gradually adjusted to the imbalance, and after a few songs I forgot the problem, thanks to the alternately fresh, intense and tender-hearted singing. In the opening Abschied I still felt the voice somewhat under-nourished when I returned to it, and the same goes for Frühlingssehnsucht, but by and large this became unimportant in relation to the many felicities of the singing.

It may be unfair to single out certain songs as extra good, but for those who like to sample before listening through the whole cycle, the heartrending In der Ferne (tr. 2), where he adopts a plaintive tone in the last stanza, is a good place to start, and Aufenthalt (tr. 7) is also a high spot. Don’t miss, by the way, Martin Helmchen’s sensitive playing in Mendelssohn’s beautiful Lied ohne Worte, Op. 30, No. 1, which fits well as an interlude between the Rellstab and the Heine songs. The individual song Schwanengesang, D 744 (tr. 9), is well worth including here, before the six “ordinary” songs in the Heine group. All six are long-time favourites, but Der Doppelgänger and Ihr Bild (tr. 13-14) are particularly touching. The darkest of them all, Der Atlas, always produces goose-pimples – and does so intensely in this reading. Fanny Mendelssohn’s early Schwanenlied comes as balm to disperse the darkness.

Pairing Schwanengesang (D 957) with the String Quintet (D 956), composed less than two months before Schubert’s death, was a clever idea. The two works are close in time, and one can imagine that death can be traced in the music, at least in the heavenly beautiful second movement. It is a long work, almost 52 minutes in this recording; it is his last chamber music work and together with the last piano sonata, his last large-scale work. By a lot of music lovers, professionals and laymen alike, it is also regarded as possibly his greatest chamber music work. Today it is a central pillar in the repertoire, but it wasn’t performed until 1850, more than twenty years after the composer’s death, and not published until three years later. It is also unusual insofar as the scoring is for string quartet and an extra cello, while most quintets have an extra viola instead. This also implies that with two bass instruments it has a weightiness that makes it more monumental and graver than any other work in the genre.

The long first movement – almost 20 minutes in this reading – is grandiose with fascinating harmonic turns, which may point forward to an even more thrilling continuation of his creativity, had he been vouchsafed a longer life. The second movement, in ternary form, is certainly one of his most beautiful, and could almost be seen as lamentation over his impending death: serene, contemplative and other-worldly, with a turbulent middle-section, that also is heard as a threatening cloud when the adagio melody returns. The scherzo, mercurial, whirlwind-like in the presto opening, sweeps away the rather resigned melancholy of the adagio – but only briefly, before the andante sostenuto takes us back to the gloomy mood that prevails in the work at large.

Schubert was no doubt aware of the frailty he was suffering from – two weeks after he finished the work he passed away. But the movement ends in the reprise of the scherzo. The final allegretto also continues in the optimistic vein – but there are intermittent glimpses of melancholy – the movement doesn’t really smile, in spite of the energetic dance rhythms. But the weasel-quick coda brings the work to an, after all, positive attitude to life.

The playing is, as could only be expected, full of vitality, and in the adagio the quintet creates an almost requiem feeling, mild and forgiving and of a kind that could have inspired Gabriel Fauré when he wrote his requiem, 60 years later.

The coupling of Schubert’s D 956 and D 957 is certainly fitting, and anyone who wants these two works together can safely invest in this twofer. In the bargain you also get a Schwanengesang with a different twist.

Göran Forsling

Contents
CD 1 [61:22]
Franz SCHUBERT
Schwanengesang, D.957
Poems by Ludwig Rellstab (1799 – 1860)
1. Abschied [4:11]
2. In der Ferne [7:25]
3. Ständchen [3:40]
4. Frühlingssehnsucht [3:45]
5. Kriegers Ahnung [5:27]
6. Liebesbotschaft [3:02]
7. Aufenthalt [3:19]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809 – 1847)
8. Lied ohne Worte, Op. 30, No. 1 [2:19]
Franz SCHUBERT
9. Schwanengesang, D.744 [3:23]
Schwanengesang, D.957
Poems by Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856)
10. Das Fischermädchen [2:28]
11. Am Meer [5:03]
12. Die Stadt [3:01]
13. Der Doppelgänger [4:54]
14. Ihr Bild [3:16]
15. Der Atlas [2:32]
Fanny MENDELSSOHN (1805 – 1847)
16. Schwanenlied, Op. 1, No. 1 (Poem by Heinrich Heine) [3:28]

CD 2 [51:52]
Franz SCHUBERT
String Quintet, D.956
1. I. Allegro ma non troppo [19:19]
2. II. Adagio [13:47]
3. III. Scherzo, Presto – Trio, Andante sostenuto [9:35]
4. IV. Allegretto – Più allegro [9:09]



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