Benjamin Appl and Graham Johnson Perform Songs by Schubert

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LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
WORKS: Am Bach im Frühling; Der Wanderer an den Mond; Im Freien; Geheimes; Das Lied im Grünen; Fischerweise; Verklärung; An den Tod; Der Zwerg; An die Leier; Gruppe aus dem Tartarus; Memnon; Alinde, etc
PERFORMER: Benjamin Appl (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano)


The last private pupil of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a BBC New Generation Artist, and a protégé of Graham Johnson, the ever-rising young baritone, Benjamin Appl is already an accomplished Schubertian. It’s apt, too, that this CD should display a picture of Johnson with book in hand, for this Schubert recital, which travels in an arc from light to darkness and back again, traverses some of the poets closest to the composer’s heart, including Schober, Seidl, Mayrhofer, Schubart, and the Schlegel brothers.

Appl’s is a noble baritone and, with the purling pianism of Johnson, he creates a love-song of cool ecstasy to both poet and composer in ‘Am Bach im Frühling’. Appl’s close verbal communication energises his declamation in the transfigurations of ‘Verklärung’, the defiant address to death of ‘An den Tod’, and the invocation to the classical gods in ‘An der Leier’.


Sometimes I could wish for brighter verbal colour and greater ardour in songs such as ‘Das Lied im Grünen’ and ‘Fischerweise’. But there is much to admire in Appl’s and Johnson’s thoughtful and chilling account of ‘Der Zwerg’, with its unearthly glow of vocal half-light; and in their recreation of Schiller’s hellish visions in the ‘Gruppe aus dem Tartarus’ and within the existential conflicts of ‘Der Kampf’. The encores return, nicely, to Schlegel and Seidl, but move into clearer, cleansed air, with the new spring of ‘Wiedersehen’ and with Schubert’s very last song, ‘Die Taubenpost’. Hilary Finch