COMPOSERS: Haydn; JF & L Reichardt; Salieri; Zemsteeg; Zelter; Gyrowetz; Weigl; Vogl; Beethoven; Unger; Eberwein; Dietrichstein; etc
ALBUM TITLE: Songs by Schubert’s Friends and Contemporaries
WORKS: Various songs
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano), Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Stella Doufexis, Mark Padmore, Gerald Finley; Graham Johnson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDJ 33051-3
It’s a daunting prospect: nearly four hours of German songs, 81 in all, by composers who preceded or lived at the same time as Schubert, often setting the same words. More an exercise in curiosity than a promise of aesthetic satisfaction, perhaps. Like the complete Schubert edition, to which it is a supplement, it has full notes, in three booklets by Johnson, and the singers are from that series.
It begins with a vocal quartet, actually – Haydn lamenting the infirmity of old age, and agreeably enough. Then we get the first of the composers whose names barely register – five songs by Reichardt, including his version of ‘The Erl King’, a tame strophic affair, though Gerald Finley infuses it with all the drama he can. Some of Reichardt’s songs are really interesting, though. And later on there are contributions from Hummel, Spohr, Weber, Beethoven, Loewe, Schumann, Liszt and the Mendelssohns, to mention only the better-known composers. From Beethoven, we get the first true song-cycle, To the Distant Beloved, but sung by Mark Padmore with disconcerting preciousness, while Graham Johnson’s accompaniment is still more fussy. Yet there are also unexpected beauties in this set, and quite a lot of them, though nothing on the level of Schubert’s greatest songs – but then almost nothing in the whole of music is on their level. This set is emphatically one to be dipped into, perhaps for five or six songs, after study of Johnson’s commentary. Listened to that way, it will certainly provide enjoyment as well as instruction. Michael Tanner