Schubert: Lieder (Vol. 23)

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Lieder (Vol. 23)
PERFORMER: Christoph Prégardien (tenor) Graham Johnson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDJ 33023 DDD
The RCA disc offers a real partnership between pianist and singer, with Charles Spencer firmly setting the scene, Thomas Quasthoff never hogging the limelight. You need to know what you’re getting, though, for ‘Der Sänger’, ‘Prometheus’ and ‘Grenzen der Menschheit’ are long and verbose. Quasthoff is not so good in lighter, lyrical songs, but effective when challenged by drama; he characterises the three voices in ‘Erlkönig’ tellingly, but makes slightly heavy weather of ‘Der Musensohn’. Not quite all the songs are settings of Goethe, and one of the exceptions is also one of the loveliest, ‘Der Zwerg’, touchingly performed here.

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The 23rd disc in Graham Johnson’s daunting pilgrimage through Schubert’s entire song output is a much more precious affair, for Johnson’s style of playing is nothing if not fastidious, while Prégardien marries tonal refinement to expressive detail. At just over 78 minutes, the disc is generous value. All 29 songs date from 1816, the year Schubert was 19. They range from the long, declamatory ballad, ‘The Death of Oscar’, to brief drinking ditties. The three ‘Harper’s Songs’ plumb the greatest depths; of this volume, only these and ‘Der Jüngling an der Quelle’ are familiar in recitals today, though both versions of ‘Der Leidende’ are gems. The copious programme notes are excellent. Adrian Jack