Schubert: Lazarus

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LABELS: Berlin Classics
WORKS: Lazarus
PERFORMER: Carola Nossek, Ursula Reinhardt-Kiss (soprano), Ingeborg Springer (mezzo-soprano), Eberhard Büchner, Horst Gebhardt (tenor), Bernd Riedel (baritone); Berlin Singakademie, Berlin Staatskapelle/Dietrich Knothe
In his Schubert biography, Alfred Einstein threw down the gauntlet by claiming that the unfinished oratorio Lazarus (1820) was far ahead of Lohengrin and Tannhäuser as a through-composed music drama. Certainly, its fluid intermingling of arioso and aria makes for a dramatic continuity unmatched in any opera of the time, Euryanthe perhaps excepted. But while the structure of Lazarus, including its occasional use of leitmotifs, foreshadows Wagner, much of the invention has a diatonic purity and radiance that recall Gluck. If ‘the shimmer of transfiguration’ (Einstein’s phrase) hovers over Act I, the incomplete second act contains some of Schubert’s most intense dramatic writing: in the graveyard scene for the despairing Simon (with its Gluckian ostinato), and the turbulent E minor aria for Lazarus’s sister Martha which tantalisingly breaks off in mid-air.


That fragmentary aria is actually omitted from this 1978 Berlin recording, which is decently sung (rather more than that in the case of Ingeborg Springer’s vibrant, impassioned Martha) and efficiently, if unatmospherically, directed. But its limitations are shown up by the EMI version under Sawallisch. His generous, flexible direction is far more responsive than Knothe’s to the unique tinta of Schubert’s luminous score, while his soloists, led by Robert Tear, Helen Donath, Lucia Popp and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, are for the most part in a different league altogether. Richard Wigmore