Schubert: The Kosegarten Liederspiel; songs from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Dogstar
WORKS: The Kosegarten Liederspiel; songs from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister
PERFORMER: Ian Partridge (tenor), Jennifer Bates (soprano), Ruth Peel (contralto), David Owen Norris (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: DOG 001 (available for £14 from PO Box 515, Marlborough SN8 3XN, cheques payable to David Owen Norris)
The Liederspiel, a kind of musical charade, was a popular evening’s entertainment in Schubert’s circle. And recent forensic work has revealed that 20 settings of Ludwig Kosegarten from 1815 (seven of them tossed off in a single day!) were assembled into such an entertainment by Schubert and his friends. The narrative centres on Wilhelm, something of a rustic Don Juan whose serial infidelities drive his lovelorn ladies to desperation. All the songs are in strophic form, most of them hymnlike and faintly archaic in style; and while there are no revelations here, several have a modest, sober beauty, and one or two, including the agitated ‘Das Sehnen’ and two rapt night-pieces, ‘Die Mondnacht’ and ‘Der Abend’, rather more than that. Rounding off the recital are the songs of the Harper and Mignon, those enigmatic, doomed outsiders from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister.

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Of the trio of singers, Ian Partridge has the lion’s share in the Liederspiel, his grace of line and subtle variety of colour and nuance compensating for a loss of sap in the tone. He also eloquently captures the pathos and vulnerability of the Harper songs. The plummy mezzo is barely adequate, but Jennifer Bates shows an attractive, if slightly edgy, soprano and makes an aptly girlish Mignon. David Owen Norris accompanies sympathetically on a nutty-toned period fortepiano, creating some pungent effects from the unequal temperament tuning. Richard Wigmore