Schubert: Erlkönig; Der Rattenfänger; Ganymed

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Erlkönig; Der Rattenfänger; Ganymed
PERFORMER: Christine Schäfer (soprano), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Simon Keenlyside (baritone), Michael George (bass), Graham Johnson (piano); London Schubert Chorale/Stephen Layton
CATALOGUE NO: CDJ 33024 DDD
Goethe, who actually called his poems Lieder, apparently did not approve of many of Schubert’s settings of his words. But it would seem that Goethe was wrong about the quality and lasting power of Schubert’s music wrapped around his words, as the Goethe Schubertiad, the 24th issue in Hyperion’s remarkable Schubert series, amply shows. There are songs of which only fragments exist, those which Graham Johnson describes as ‘scraps of Schubertiana’. Then there are the well-known and loved recital programme standards ‘Rastlose Liebe’ and ‘Ganymed’, the unusual, ‘Mahomets Gesang’, and the downright unbelievable, ‘Sehnsucht’, an 1819 unaccompanied male chorus setting.

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Schäfer reveals great promise as a Lieder interpreter. She has innate musical antennae for the sense and shape of Schubert’s lines. Keenlyside, sadly, does not seem to be in consistently good voice on this disc; George delivers pleasingly pliant, earthy deep sound; but the resounding revelation is Ainsley’s luminous singing. He has grown in stature as a consummate performer over the past five years, combining intrinsic musicianship, a polished technique and a glorious voice.

Baritone Thierry Félix has an intense and appealing voice when he is not pushing his interpretative skills to the limits; then his vocal sound becomes uneven. By choosing the most famous Schubert Goethe settings Félix has made a rod for his own back in that the spectre of comparison appears with nearly every track. Badura-Skoda’s flair on the slightly twangy 1825 fortepiano is recorded well. There are distinctive moments on this disc, but too few to recommend it.

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Fischer-Dieskau provides an opportunity to hear composers of whom Goethe approved, Reichardt and Zelter, as well as the choice plums of concert hall programmes and later, Romantic and 20th-century composers. It is a rich feast of music and poetry, full of Fischer-Dieskau’s constant craving to deliver fresh interpretative nuances in the most well-known songs, which only a live concert situation – not originally intended as a disc – can produce. Fischer-Dieskau’s artistry blazes through every bar. Elise McDougall