One of the loveliest ways for composers to show their admiration for their predecessors is through arrangements. This recording unites a wide selection of orchestral arrangements of some of Schubert’s best-loved songs. Opening with a treatment of Ständchen by Felix Mottl (arranger of Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder), we hear Schubert through Britten, Richard Strauss, Reger, Liszt, Brahms, Berlioz and Webern in a surprisingly coherent musical experience.
The revelation is the French composer Franck Krawczyk (b. 1969) whose bubbling arrangement of An Sylvia had me smiling for days. His Nacht und Träume is a sea of warm woodwind. Der Gondelfahrer and Coronach, for male and female chorus respectively, are balanced brilliantly in his atmospheric renditions.
There are other delights. Liszt’s semi-operatic Die junge Nonneis terrific fun, conjuring up Gothic horror. We see Brahms’s unmistakable fingerprint on Gruppe aus dem Tartarus. And Berlioz – the master orchestrator – bestows operatic grandeur on Erlkönig. Webern turns Du bist die Ruh into a translucent, glinting jewel. And thankfully, the good bones of Schubert’s songs can support them even through over-elaborate treatments like Richard Strauss’s Ganymed.
Ultimately, Schubert’s songs were conceived through the piano, and I occasionally missed that instrument’s flexibility and responsiveness. Im Abendrot, a gloriously dignified song, felt a touch unyielding and ordinary under Laurence Equilbey’s baton. Wiebke Lehmkuhl and Stanislas de Barbeyrac match the orchestral heft well, but some slightly hasty tempos robbed a few songs of their original reflectiveness and intimacy. Still, the Insula Orchestra sounds warm and colourful in this intriguing, beautifully conceived recording.