Beethoven, Schubert: Schwanengesang; Herbst, D945

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Schubert
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert, Beethoven
WORKS: Schwanengesang; Herbst, D945
PERFORMER: Matthias Goerne (baritone), Alfred Brendel (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 475 6011
Live at the Wigmore Hall in November 2003: two memorable recitals of Schubert’s great swansongs, from which this recording has been assembled. And it’s a souvenir-document all Schubert and Goerne/Brendel fanciers will be itching to acquire. The elusive, tenderly valedictory quality of the Rellstab songs could have been written with Goerne’s voice in mind. His renowned breath control and intensely focused imagination create hypnotic momentum in ‘Liebesbotschaft’ and ‘Frühlingssehnsucht’, and a unique sense of the chill isolation of the figure in the landscape, comparable to a Casper Friedrich painting, in a song such as ‘In der Ferne’. Brendel’s intimate partnership is to be relished, particularly in the inner voicing of Schubert’s piano writing, and in his luminescent, lute-like accompaniment to ‘Ständchen’. Goerne is the very incarnation of the staring-eyed Doppelgänger of the Heine songs; and he pushes ‘Ihr Bild’ and ‘Die Stadt’ to daring extremes of tempo and dynamics, so that time seems to be standing still.

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Goerne’s and Brendel’s An die ferne Geliebte is also a thing of wonder: one of the most eloquent and musically intelligent in the entire catalogue. The competition for Schwanengesang is stiff: among a long, long list, and among contemporary baritone performances, both Thomas Quasthoff and Wolfgang Holzmair offer outstanding versions. Where Goerne provides poetic Romantic canvases, Quasthoff carves out massive bas-reliefs. And somewhere between the two stand Holzmair and Imogen Cooper, herself a Brendel pupil. Holzmair fuses the dramatic close-focus of Quasthoff with the tender lyricism of Goerne, often outdoing even him in breath control – and Holzmair’s performance retains a unique power to move. This, too, is the best balanced recording and so, 10 years on, has to be my enduring benchmark. Hilary Finch