Schubert: An 1826 Schubertiad

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: An 1826 Schubertiad
PERFORMER: Christine Schäfer (soprano), John Mark Ainsley (ten), Richard Jackson (baritone); Graham Johnson (piano) London Schubert Chorale/Stephen Layton
The start of Schubert’s bicentenary year is celebrated in fine style by An 1826 Schubertiad, the latest in Hyperion’s great Schubert Edition, due for completion this year. Graham Johnson’s ever-enriching booklet notes introduce Schubert’s two ‘scenes’ from the play Lacrimas, his Mignon songs from Wilhelm Meister, and 14 more, including the Shakespeare settings.


The canny casting ensures each song is given a real sense of occasion. Schäfer’s direct, naturally plangent soprano emphasises the emotional fragility of the Mignon songs; and the bloom on Jackson’s mature baritone gives lustre to his ‘Solitude’, while he proves himself an eloquent reciter for the rare, valedictory ‘melodrama’, ‘Abschied’. Ainsley can be slightly self-conscious in an over-calculated ‘An Silvia’, but his tenor brings a true ‘Night Brightness’ to Schubert’s songs with choir. The London Schubert Chorale, in turn, finds its own lunar beauty for the male quintet ‘Mondenschein’ and the unaccompanied ‘Grab und Mond’.


The Finnish mezzo-soprano Monica Groop offers a spirited, unashamed and, in the light of the vast competition, daring recital of popular Schubert songs, deftly accompanied by Rudolf Jansen. Her ‘Wiegenlied’ omits one stanza – perhaps because she has not, as yet, found a way to vary sufficiently her powerful and distinctive vocal timbre: her tendency to crescendo into each bar’s accented beats is one indication of her difficulty in controlling the weight of the voice to match subtly enough the weight and inflection of the melodic line. Hilary Finch