SCHUBERT: Nacht und Träume; Der blinde Knabe; Hoffnung; Totengräberweise;
Tiefes Lied; Greisengesang; Totengräbers Heimweh; An den Mond; Die
Mainacht; An Silvia; Ständchen; Der Schiffer und der Reiter; Die Sommernacht;
Erntelied; Herbstlied; Der liebliche Stern; An die Geliebte.
Matthias Goerne (baritone); Alexander Schmalcz (piano).
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902063 TT: 60:40.
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Stunning. Schubert published two major song cycles during his life. However,
he also wrote a ton of individual songs, roughly 600, which singers have
loved to collect into coherent recitals. I've heard all-Schubert recitals
and mini-recitals consisting of his Goethe songs, songs on classical
Greek themes, songs about death (there was a fun evening), songs of
so on. Matthias Goerne, one of today's highest-profile Lieder singers,
has gathered Schubert songs under the rubric "Nacht und Träume" (night
and dreams). I should point out that not every song links to the title.
Some of the texts actually take place during the day and not all of them
refer to dreams. At least the tag doesn't go as far as the note writer,
the French opera dramaturge Christophe Christi, who in the album essay "La
mort est viennoise" (death is Viennese), apparently sees death in
every song -- demonstrably not true of songs like "An Silvia" and "Ständchen" ("Horch,
horch, die Lerch"). Most of his observations, by the way, are typical
Euro-gas, evoking grand concepts without much grounding in the objects
at hand. I have no idea why Harmonia Mundi found this essay illuminating
Generally, the songs Goerne has chosen come from relatively obscure corners
of Schubert's catalogue. Indeed, I didn't know most of them before. Every
single one amazed me. Christi makes one brilliant point: that Schubert
discovered and mined a particularly phantasmal, grotesque vein in some
of the "death" songs. We see this at the very beginning of Schubert's
songwriting (when he had written only slightly over 200 songs), in "Erlkönig." Mussorgsky
and Mahler followed up in works like Songs and Dances of Death and "Revelge." But
the audacity, aggressiveness, and grotesquerie of those works are already
present in Schubert's "Totengräbers Heimweh" (gravedigger's
homesickness), where the piano conjures up savage, furious digging.
I didn't think anybody could surpass Simon Keenlyside's Brahms-Schumann
recital on Sony, but I believe Goerne has done it. Just think! Two fabulous
song-recital CDs in one year -- from baritones, yet. Goerne studied with
Fischer-Dieskau and Schwarzkopf, among others, and he, along with Keenlyside,
has graduated into their class. He has absolutely mastered legato and
the subtle chiaroscuro of the singing line. He declaims poetry beautifully,
with a sure feel for structure and sense. I don't know how well he'd
on an opera stage, since I can't tell the size of his voice or how well
he acts in general, but he's Olivier when he sings. He can evoke a range
of emotions in a single song and, unlike Fischer-Dieskau at times, does
so without emphasizing the artifice of it. His voice can shout, rasp,
mourn, console, dance, and just about anything other than scat.
Of course, no singer reaches such heights alone. He needs a great accompanist.
Goerne gets one in Alexander Schmalcz, a name new to me. These two are
so in synch that it sounds, as with a folk singer, like Goerne accompanies
S.G.S. (June 2011)