Schubert: Lieder

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WORKS: Lieder
PERFORMER: Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano), Graham Johnson, Martin Isepp, Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
Gerald Moore, quoted in the booklet, noted ‘a quality of chaste voluptuousness’ in Janet Baker’s tone. And you can hear what Moore meant in the 1970 performances of ‘Der Jüngling und der Tod’ and ‘Schwestergruss’, both of which reveal Baker’s voice and art in their glorious prime. By 1977, when the first six songs here were recorded (with Graham Johnson), the hint of voluptuousness had gone, and the tone could grow faintly astringent under pressure. But no matter. Both here and in the 1980 group with Geoffrey Parsons, the art remained as commanding as ever. Baker, like Fischer-Dieskau, was never a purveyor of mere charm. With her urgency and dramatic immediacy she challenges you to re-evaluate ostensibly slight, innocent numbers like ‘Das Rosenband’ and ‘Blumenlied’; the suave cantilena of the little-known Mayrhofer song ‘Augenlied’ acquires an unsuspected intensity and variety of colour, while ‘Auf dem See’ here has an anxious, even neurotic, edge. Perhaps ‘Der Musensohn’, despite miracles of delicacy, is a tad unsmiling, missing the rapture of Baker’s earlier recorded versions. But in the more exalted numbers her colouring and shaping are unerring: in an ineffably poignant ‘Die Götter Griechenlands’, for instance, or in the great Mayrhofer songs of longing and alienation, above all ‘Memnon’, a performance of brooding majesty and magnificent Classical breadth of line. Richard Wigmore