Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Schubert
LABELS: Orchid
WORKS: Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte; Schubert: Schwanengesang
PERFORMER: James Gilchrist (tenor), Anna Tilbrook (piano)

These song cycles, closest of soulmates, are all too seldom performed or recorded together. Schubert was much affected by Beethoven’s pioneering cycle, and in his Schwanengesang set poems by Rellstab from the very manuscript which Beethoven had marked and intended to set. These performances of these two song cycles share a disarming directness and simplicity of communication, and both are marked by meticulously judged pacing.
Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte can often be skewed by a tendency to the ponderous, even the portentous – especially at the end. James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook take great care to sense the lightness of touch and the emotional fragility of these songs of vernal yearning. They are indeed sung, as the last song declares, ‘with no display of art, Aware only of longing’. The performers’ art really does conceal art: Gilchrist’s tenor skilfully voicing a hushed wonder, and Tilbrook’s fingers, rid of sentimentalising cliché, moving with the fleet freedom of air and birdsong.
A similar skill in judging scale, weight and measure both within and between songs characterises this Schwanengesang. The Rellstab songs breathe easily: Tilbrook sets broad horizons of space and time for ‘Kriegers Ahnung’ and rhythmic rigour brings excitement to ‘Aufenthalt’. Tilbrook’s resonance bears up the voice in ‘Der Atlas’, and Gilchrist sustains tension and darkness in ‘Der Doppelgänger’. Hilary Finch