Beethoven • Schubert
Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte, Op. 98; Schubert: Schwanengesang, D957
Roderick Williams (baritone), Iain Burnside (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20126 65:14 mins
Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte is the ultimate song cycle, six songs connected with short piano passages. Schubert’s Schwanengesang is perhaps the ultimate pseudo-cycle: 14 songs grouped posthumously by Schubert’s enterprising publisher under the irresistible title ‘Swan-Song’. Beethoven’s set brings back opening material prominently; the Schubert collection is a hotch-potch of moods, two groups plus a bonus song. There is no continuous cycle here, but the marketing was so effective, and the songs are so frequently sung as a group, that the set seems to have coalesced in the listener’s ear.
We’re told that the two sets are recorded with different acoustics – the piano more prominent in the Beethoven, and the reverse in the Schubert. I’m not entirely convinced; the Beethoven sounds a little echoey to my ear. No matter; nothing wrong with a fresh approach and one does hear a difference.
Roderick Williams is effortlessly boyish in the Beethoven, matched by Iain Burnside’s transparent sound. The Schubert begins relaxed, but emotions are soon ratcheted up. Burnside’s unhurried pace and clear pedalling reveals each detail of these beautifully crafted miniatures. Williams’s ‘Ständchen’ – one of Schubert’s greatest hits – offers a honey-smooth seducer, albeit with a heart of gold.
Perhaps this captures my one small reservation. The Schubert-Heine songs demand extremes of ugliness, rage and alienation. That charming-lecherous fisherman in ‘Das Fischermädchen’ should make the skin crawl, the jittery, swirling bleakness of ‘Die Stadt’ should evoke a chilling cityscape. I longed for just a few more rough edges in this beautifully polished recording.