PERFORMER: Patrick Mason (baritone)Phyllis East (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BCD 9053 DDD
Schubert’s last song cycle – his Schwanengesang – may lack the dramatic unity of Winterreise or Die schöne Müllerin, but its 13 lieder nevertheless form a coherent single work: seven settings of poems by Rellstab, in which the tone is generally confident, even if the undercurrent of disquiet is palpable, followed by six Heine settings, where the mood is darker and increasingly tormented. For no discernible reason – except that ‘Abschied’ (‘Farewell’) becomes the final number – the two sets have been transposed here, so that the sense of the singer’s descent into despair is compromised.
Fortunately, however, the young Danish baritone Boje Skovhus sings with such shattering expressiveness that he overcomes this anomaly, suffusing ‘Abschied’, despite its jovial piano part, with a sense of such agitation that one is in no doubt that this is a man on the brink of suicide. But it is in the Heine songs that this outstanding singer – his voice is robust but controlled with infinite delicacy, his phrasing impeccable – really comes into his own. Rarely has ‘Die Stadt’ seemed so threatening. His Winterreise, when he comes to record it, promises great things.
Which is more than can be said for the Canadian baritone Patrick Mason’s insipid account of this most searing cycle. Granted, his voice is fine enough and his musicianship is not in question, but he may as well be singing nursery rhymes for all the anguish he conveys. Claire Wrathall