Schwanengesang; String Quintet; plus works by Felix Mendelssohn and Fanny Mendelssohn
Julian Pregardien (tenor), Martin Helmchen (piano); Christian Tetzlaff, Florian Donderer (violin), Rahcel Roberts (viola), Tanja Tetzlaff, Marie-Elisabeth Hecker (cello)
Alpha Classics ALPHA 748 113:14 mins (2 discs)
There is much to enjoy in this highly perfumed Schubert disc from a close-knit group of distinguished performers. The first disc is devoted to the composer’s last not-really-a-song-cycle, Schwanengesang, which holds some of his bleakest utterances. Julien Prégardien’s relatively light tenor makes the most of the intimacy to which these brief masterpieces are well suited; he is at his finest when taking his refined tone into a quiet focus filled with intensity, notably in ‘Ständchen’ or the agonising ‘Am Meer’. At the piano, Helmchen’s readings are full of character, with well-marked inner voicing. The balance between singer and pianist is not always ideal, though – a bit piano-heavy. A solo piano Song without Words by Felix Mendelssohn and a setting of Heine’s ‘Schwanenlied’ by Fanny Mendelssohn tie in with the concept, but otherwise seem a tad redundant.
The Teztlaff siblings and friends in the ever-magical String Quintet are a close-knit ensemble, performing as if with one soul. Again, intimacy takes precedence over projection and the playing itself is technically unimpeachable. Nevertheless, the tendency in both the song cycle and the quintet to exaggerate elements of expression feels problematic – whether it’s excessive leaning on a melodic note or the heavy tread of the slow movement’s middle section. At times it becomes slightly over-thought, interrupting the emotional flow instead of enhancing it – a bit like an actor enunciating every word at the expense of a speech’s message. This music really should move us to tears and if it doesn’t, something is off kilter.