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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Die Entführung; Des Pfarrers Tochter von Taubenhain
PERFORMER: Bernd Weikl (baritone); Wolfgang Sawallisch (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: C 074 021 A Reissue (1982)
Admired by both Schubert and Loewe, Zumsteeg’s ballads are in effect miniature domestic operas, with the singer alternately narrating and impersonating and the piano gamely imitating an orchestra. Both Die Entführung – in which bold knight rescues fair maiden against the odds – and Des Pfarrers Tochter von Taubenhain – a shock-horror tale of rape and infanticide – have their effective moments of drama. More often, though, Zumsteeg’s invention is too tame and easygoing for the high-octane subject matter: the central swordfight in Die Entführung, for instance, takes place to an almost comically decorous minuet. And despite token attempts at unity, the dominant impression is of a sequence of strophic songs loosely strung together. Still, both performers make a strong case for these amiably sprawling pieces. Bernd Weikl, with his robust, oaky baritone, is a vivid story-teller and characterises with relish, while Sawallisch injects whatever drama he can into Zumsteeg’s often routine piano parts. Richard Wigmore