Schubert: Schwanengesang, D957; 7 Lieder

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Schwanengesang, D957; 7 Lieder
PERFORMER: Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone) Imogen Cooper (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 442 460-2 DDD
Ever fearful of being accused of short-changing the CD-fancier with a programme of less than 60 full minutes, most lieder singers choose to make up the spare time round the edges of Schubert’s Schwanengesang with extra settings by poets already featured in these swansongs.

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I’ve found no more satisfying approach than Wolfgang Holzmair’s: like Brigitte Fassbaender two years earlier, he goes for more Johann Gabriel Seidl, plus the autumn poem by Rellstab often considered to have been intended by Schubert for inclusion in this group. What distinguishes Holzmair’s recording is the sensitivity with which he moves from Schubert’s last song, ‘Die Taubenpost’, and its fellows of yearning and gentle disquiet, into the mainstream of the rushing waters of ‘Liebesbotschaft’, on into the heart of Heinrich Heine’s darkness – and then, wonderfully, back again to ‘Die Taubenpost’ which, with the same poet’s ‘Cradle Song’, seals the recital in sleep.

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The chemistry of this recital is fine-tuned by Holzmair’s own fine vocal sensibility and Imogen Cooper’s sentient accompanying. Holzmair’s baritone is to be enjoyed like a light, fragrant wine: the distant, almost distracted humming of ‘Die Taubenpost’ and ‘Sehnsucht’ (‘Longing’) darkens effortlessly into ‘Warrior’s Foreboding’ through the finest shadings of vocal colour and tension; while rhythmic precision and snarling vowels build their own mighty weight for the world of anguish borne by ‘Der Atlas’ and staring through the eyes of ‘Der Doppelgänger’. Hilary Finch