Schubert: Schwanengesang; Gehimnis; An Schwager Kronos; Wiederschien; Abschied

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Schwanengesang; Gehimnis; An Schwager Kronos; Wiederschien; Abschied
PERFORMER: Ian Bostridge (tenor), Antonio Pappano (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 516 4432

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Singers tend to be daunted by the challenges of Schubert’s swansongs; but Ian Bostridge shows it. In his obvious awe and admiration for Schwanengesang, he tries just too hard too often. Some things are exquisitely done, so the listener minds all the more when things go wrong. This is a seductive but frustratingly uneven recording.

The recital starts auspiciously, Antonio Pappano’s piano accompaniment glinting as it tracks the beautifully shaped vocal line in ‘Liebesbotschaft’. ‘Aufenthalt’, though, is underpowered: the voice’s energy ebbs and flows erratically. And while ‘In der Ferne’ is too slow, tempting Bostridge to over-emphasise syllables at the expense of the echoing, falling lines, ‘Das Fischermädchen’, in the Heine settings, is too fast. Both voice and piano are far too frisky: there’s deeper mystery here.

The highly charged last three songs fall down on the frisson factor. ‘Die Stadt’ is too wordy to be mesmeric. ‘Am Meer’, singing out desolation as only Bostridge knows how, is let down by the chopped-up final, climactic line. And ‘Der Doppelgänger’ is too calculatedly spooky, word by word, to carry its full existential chill.

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Schwanengesang is sensitively and rewardingly framed by songs of sad mortality: the final, heartbreaking D475 ‘Abschied’, to words by Schubert’s suicidal flatmate Mayrhofer, is particularly beautifully sung and paced. Hilary Finch