Schubert: Wanderers Nachtlied

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert: Wanderers Nachtlied
WORKS: Wanderers Nachtlied
PERFORMER: Matthias Goerne (baritone), Helmut Deutsch, Eric Schneider (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902109-10

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At first, something of a sense of déjà vu here: the sombre black design, the crepuscular words ‘Wanderers Nachtlied’, the staring eyes of baritone Matthias Goerne. This is Volume 8 of his complete Schubert Edition; and, no, we haven’t heard these tracks before. But the shadow-side of Schubert still dominates as Goerne’s dark, resonant voice, with its extraordinary breath control, murmurs through the existential twilit world of love, loss and lament.

Those long, warm breaths embody the glow and the slow descent of the sun itself in the first track of these two discs, ‘An die untergehende Sonne’. ‘Litanei’ is taken as slowly as is humanly possible, with pianist Helmut Deutsch supporting and tinting Goerne’s half-voice. And the engineers seem to have added extra resonance for the sepulchral voice of Death in ‘Der Tod und das Madchen’.

So, is that the whole story? Not quite. Goerne’s vividly dramatic storytelling skills burst out of the anguished ballad, ‘Der Zwerg’. And the entire first disc is beautifully shaped as darkness gives way to early spring light, exaltation and consolation.

Goethe – who notoriously spurned Schubert’s settings – dominates the second disc, from the exquisite title-song (‘Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh’) to the springing delight of ‘Der Musensohn’. Eric Schneider is a somewhat heavy-handed accompanist here and, at times, I wished someone could have coaxed just a fleeting smile or moment of charm from the ever-earnest Goerne. But his deep seriousness never fails to come up with rare insight, and yields many unforgettable performances here.

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Hilary Finch