Discovering the Schubert Songs
Robin Friedman | Washington, D.C. United States | 07/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Franz Schubert (1779 -- 1828) composed more than 600 songs beginning from the age of about 14 until days before his death. He virtually invented the art song, and he remains the greatest composer of song in any form. Schubert had astonishing lyrical gifts and the best of his songs flow with an irrestible spontaneity. If he had composed nothing else, his output of songs would be among the treasures of music and would entitle him to the highest rank as a composer. Brahms, who was also a master of the art song, once said that there was something to be learned from each of Schubert's efforts in this form. I have loved Schubert's songs for many years and know of no other music that so readily melts my heart.
There are many ways to approach Schubert's songs and a multitude of choices on CD of both historical and contemporary recordings. The CD under discussion "A Voyage of Discovery" bids fair to be the best place to start for a newcomer. This CD is part of a monumental project, consisting of 37 CDs, to record Schubert's entire song output on Hyperion, a British label. The project was conceived by pianist Graham Johnson who is the accompanist throughout the series. Each CD in the Hyperion series comes with an extensive booklet including the texts of the songs and great detail about the poetry, Schubert's life, and the music. Each CD is also performed by one of the great singers of our day, beautifully accompanied by Johnson. But each of these CDs, alas, is expensive. And all but devoted listeners might be intimidated by 37 CDs of song.
Thus, this sampler is valuable because it is culled from the first 27 CDs in the series and includes selections by 24 outstanding singers such as Peter Schrier, Lelicity Lott, Ian Bostridge, Brigette Fassbaender, Elly Ameling, and many more. The CD was obviously prepared to encourage the listener to explore the Hyperion series further, buy it also serves as an outstanding introduction to Schubert. The songs on this CD are among Schubert's masterworks, and each is performed by a different artist. Thus the listener receives a rare opportunity to hear an introductory selection of Schubert performed by many singers in different styles. (Most samplers feature the work of only a single artist or two.) And the disk is much less expensive than its companions in the Hyperion series.
The works flow and sing, and the best way to approach this CD is to sit back, listen and enjoy. The CD encourages this approach because there is little in the way of program notes and song texts are not provided -- not even the names of the poets. But the music is lyrical and of immediate appeal. My favorites pieces here include Peter Schreier singing "Der Liebiche Stern"; Dame Felicity Lott singing "Am See"; Ian Bostridge's inspired rendition of "Mein!" from Schubert's song-cycle "Die Schone Mullerein"; John Mark Ainsley's rendition of Shakspeare's "An Silvia", Adrian Thompson's "Trost im Tranen", and Elly Ameling singing " An den Fruhling". I also enjoyed Arleen Auger's singing of a Schubert "Romanze" which features a part for the clarinet and Sarah Walker singing a version of "Standchen" with an accompaning chorus. But the entire CD is moving, lovely music.
This CD is a joy in itself for those listeners who can be satisfied with a basic exposure to the Schubert songs. But it is also a good place to begin for listeners who want to hear more of Schubert -- either on the Hyperion series or on the many other CDs of the songs that are readily available to be explored and enjoyed.
Hear, hear, and...
Peter Smith | Buffalo NY USA | 10/09/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I simply want to add one sentence to the two long 5-star reviews, and to send a Thank You to, as well as offer a suggestion for, Ms Fleming. Thank you, dear Ms Fleming, for pointing out the mislabeling (and congratulations too, since your entreaty was acted upon); and: May I just suggest that you give this unwanted CD to someone who has no idea that such glorious music and music-making is to be found in this imperfect world.
And all I wish to add to the splendid reviews which begin this page is: I have all the discs in this masterpiece of a series, but every so often - quite often, in fact - I come back to this compilation, this sampler, and listen to it all the way through, knowing that the last track will bring me to perfection. I cannot imagine how that perfect song could be performed with greater insight and ability; I am in awe of Mr Varcoe's accomplishment every time I listen to it; I suspect that this is the music I shall ask to hear when I perceive that I am about to take my leave of everything else."
DAVID BRYSON | Glossop Derbyshire England | 05/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"How the numbers have been done is a little obscure. 26 songs, sung by 24 singers, have been selected from the first 27 records in the omnibus set of Schubert Lieder from Hyperion. Bostridge features twice, and I imagine there will be no complaints about that. The other artist to appear twice is Sarah Walker, and that is more of a mixed blessing, for several reasons. The songs are not exclusively solo works. The `Staendchen' here is neither the familiar Rellstab number from the Schwanengesang nor the Shakespeare `Hark hark the lark' but a piece with solo and male chorus, and the Romance sung by Arleen Auger has a clarinet obbligato played by Thea King. The piano accompaniment is provided throughout by Graham Johnson.
A few minor quibbles apart, this is my idea of a perfectly heavenly record, outstandingly well engineered. The selection is a judicious mix of familiar and unfamiliar. Who Is Sylvia is here, as are the Erlking and Mein from the Mill songs. Special favourites of my own are Der Allmacht and Mayrhofer's Aufloesung, both superb opportunities for a big voice, and the works cover all of Schubert's short career with Deutsch numbers ranging from 113 to 920. I think I would have liked Elizabeth Connell to hit Der Allmacht just a little harder. At the start I thought that Johnson might have been using a little too much pedal, but when I felt that most in the Sailor's Song to the Dioscuri he immediately delighted me with a lively and bouncing accompaniment in the next number Who Is Sylvia. My one real reservation concerns Erlkoenig, sung by Sarah Walker. For me, this is just not a song for a woman. Three of the four parts - father, child and the Erlking himself -- are explicitly male, and I imagine one takes the narrator to be male as well. Even more, for the one and only time on the entire disc I'm not happy with the performers' concept of the song. The tempo is too fast for my liking - the father is galloping rapidly, but any suggestion of panic ought to be reserved for the end. I also like a clean drumming sound in the piano right hand with a good strong accent on each of the four beats, clearly suggesting the hoofbeats of the horse, and too much pedal spoils it for me. What is also lost is the wonderful way the tension should relax without loss of pace before the Erlking's first song, and there is no sinister quality to the Erlking's tone as there needs to be. Fischer-Dieskau and Moore are not supplanted in my affections here.
And that's about it by way of criticisms. A disc featuring Schreier, Lott, Bostridge, Fassbaender, Allen, Baker, Mathis, Rolfe Johnson, Auger, Ameling and Varcoe to name but some can be expected to be a bit of a celebration, and that's exactly what it is. The liner booklet is even more than usually inadequate with no texts. It does not tot up the playing time either, but for me this recital was over almost as soon as it began, so much did it keep me in raptures. Strongly recommended."