Schubert: Schwanengesang

COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Schwanengesang
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert
WORKS: Schwanengesang
PERFORMER: Christopher Maltman (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: WHLive 0049

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This disc completes Christopher Maltman’s recording, from concerts in the Wigmore Hall, of Schubert’s three great song cycles (Die schöne Müllerin reviewed June 2011; Winterreise reviewed December 2011); except that Schwanengesang (Swan Song) isn’t really a cycle. It consists of the last songs Schubert wrote, from poems by very different poets – Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine (as well as one by Johann Gabriel Seidl) – and with many different subjects.

Hilary Finch, in a characteristically intelligent booklet note, argues that the songs are a cycle, in that they centre on ‘Sehnsucht’ – longing. I don’t agree, and even if it were true, Schubert’s settings vary so much in tone and character that they don’t come across as any kind of unity. Nor do these performers try to make them more of a whole than they are.

Both singer and accompanist are on far better form, for me, than they were in Winterreise, where I found them precious and mannered. These are direct, uncluttered accounts of songs of varying quality, and the deepest – ‘Am Meer’, ‘Der Doppelgänger’ – get appropriately weighty treatment, while others, such as the last, are delightfully light. There are two encores, one announced by Maltman, the second by Johnson, who speaks movingly about Schubert, to whom he has given a lifetime’s service. A fine recital, but not as memorable as some others.

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Michael Tanner