WORKS: Lieder, Op. 1-24
PERFORMER: Mitsuko Shirai (mezzo-soprano), Christian Elsner (tenor), Stephan Genz (baritone), Peter Lika (bass), Hartmut Höll (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 49 110 1
So many songs: so little time! Schubert’s 200th anniversary year is certainly concentrating performers’ minds on the infinite possibilities of Lieder programming. This project, coyly called LIEDopera, presents the songs published in Schubert’s lifetime (about one third of his output) in the opus groups in which the composer himself chose to present them for publication. Among his commonsensical marketing ploys and the tributes to poets such as Goethe and Mayrhofer, appear groupings which do, indeed, offer ear-opening revelations.
The third of these four discs (the fourth, by the way, is a ‘bonus’ reading, in German of chapters from Peter Härtling’s Schubert novel, Moment Musical) reveals the particularly poignant Op. 23 grouping of four songs from autumn 1832 when the onset of syphilis had its cataclysmic effect on Schubert’s spirit. In ‘Die Liebe hat gelogen’, ‘Schöne Welt’, ‘Schwanengesang’ and ‘Schatzgräbers Begehr’, defiant desperation alternates with bleached resignation in highly expressive performances by tenor Christian Elsner and baritone Stephan Genz.
It is, of course, the quality of the performances themselves by which this project must ultimately be judged. The casting of these two fine young singers produces the richest insights, and bass-baritone Peter Lika offers his own robustly characterised Mayrhofer settings; though Mitsuko Shirai’s soprano, of late over-tremulous with vibrato, is the weak link here. Throughout, Hartmut Höll’s piano accompaniment stage-manages superbly (despite the dry, sterile acoustic), recreating simultaneously the physical and spiritual imagery of each song. Hilary Finch