Submitted by a reader, this recording of Hermann Prey singing Erlkonig an 1986 gives a totally different take on the song from the Ann Sofie von Otter performance. Both are with orchestras, but not only are the voices very different, but the orchestration of this version is much more intricate. Listen to the contrast between the two parts in Prey’s performance; he is almost two different people.
The sound isn’t great, and it’s a tad out of synch, but this performance with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Claudio Abbado is intense. I love Ann Sofie’s voice. There’s more in these four minutes than in many symphonies.
This site is young, and there aren’t many readers yet, but for the few of you who are reading, you are probably here because you share my love for Schubert’s wonderful lieder. What are your favorite recordings? Who are your favorite singers? I’ll be posting reviews of mine in the coming weeks and months, but it would be interesting to get an idea of what you all like. And it may give me some ideas for singers or recordings that I’m not familiar with.
Feel free to post about your favorites in the comments.
Thomas Quasthoff unfortunately announced his retirement from singing early in 2012, because of health reasons. But while he was singing, he was perhaps one of the best interpreters of Schubert since Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. (In fact, Fischer-Dieskau called Quasthoff the greatest living lieder singer in 2007.)
This performance of Auf den Flusse is riveting. In the first verses, Quasthoff sets the scene for what will come. Then, the contrast he gives in the final verse is simply chilling:
Mein Herz, in diesem Bache
Erkennst du nun dein Bild?
Ob’s unter seiner Rinde
Wohl auch so reißend schwillt?
The first two lines are ethereal, then the torrent breaks through and he gives his all in the final lines and the repeats.
Schubert & Co is presenting a series of concerts in New York City which will cover all of Schubert’s lieder.
Schubert’s influence on the art song repertory can be likened to that of Shakespeare on the English language, and this presentation will be a truly monumental event, being the first NYC performance of all 603 of his completed solo songs.
This project is a labor of love for Artistic Directors Lachlan Glen and Jonathan Ware, who together with 53 world-class singers and five outstanding guest pianists will explore Schubert’s contribution to this art form and bring these extraordinary works to New York’s musical stage. This venture has been met with enthusiastic support from eminent musicians and scholars including Malcolm Martineau, Graham Johnson, Brian Zeger and Susan Youens.
The concerts begin on September 21, and will be performed at the Central Presbyterian Church of New York City.
This is a great initiative, and the producers are seeking some additional funding on Kickstarter. While the performers are “doing it out of love and without any financial reimbursement,” they are seeking funding to cover travel expenses. So give them a few bucks to make this happen. Ah, I wish I still lived in New York to see some of these.
Here’s a list of the artists currently committed to the project:
Julian Arsenault – baritone
Jim Barbato – tenor
Fleur Barron – mezzo-soprano
Rachel Bate – soprano
Kyle Bielfield – tenor
Benjamin Bloomfield – bass
Jesse Blumberg – baritone
Andrew Bogard – bass-baritone
John Brancy – baritone
Julia Bullock – soprano
Brandon Cedel – bass-baritone
Jeong-Cheol Cha – bass-baritone
Tammy Coil – mezzo-soprano
Katharine Dain – soprano
Charlotte Dobbs – soprano
Dimitri Dover – pianist
Simone Easthope – soprano
Jonathan Estabrooks – baritone
Ying Fang – soprano
Mary Feminear – soprano
William Ferguson – tenor
Liza Forrester – mezzo-soprano
Wallis Giunta – mezzo-soprano
Raquel Gonzalez – soprano
Devon Guthrie – soprano
Lilla Heinrich Szász – soprano
Evan Hughes – bass-baritone
Pureum Jo – soprano
Michael Kelly – baritone
Sungji Kim – soprano
Spencer Lang – tenor
Abigail Levis – mezzo-soprano
Alexander Lewis – tenor
Talya Lieberman – soprano
Will Livermann – baritone
Jazimina MacNeil – mezzo-soprano
Samantha Malk – mezzo-soprano
Kate Mangiameli – mezzo-soprano
Kelly Markgraf – baritone
Nathalie Mittelbach – mezzo-soprano
Nils Neubert – tenor
Naomi O’Connell – mezzo-soprano
Takaoki Onishi – baritone
Jarrett Ott – baritone
Edward Parks – baritone
Elena Perroni – soprano
Susanna Phillips – soprano
Sarah Shafer – soprano
Tyler Simpson – bass
Lauren Snouffer – soprano
Christopher Tiesi – tenor
Karen Vuong – soprano
Katherine Whyte – soprano
Rachael Wilson – mezzo-soprano
Brian Zeger – pianist
Here is Hampson singing Rast. He is, perhaps, a bit gloomy in this performance, and this could be, in part, because of the lack of an audience. But Hampson’s introspective yet forceful style comes through here very well. I like this performance. Listen to the way he sings the final line, “Mit heißem Stich sich regen!”
While “authentic” piano recordings of Romantic composers are not very common, there are a handful of musicians who have recorded these works on the fortepiano, or the instrument of the time of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. The best-known performer is probably Roland Brautigam, who has recorded complete sets of music, for the Swedish label Bis, by Haydn and Mozart. Brautigam is currently completing a cycle of Beethoven’s solo piano works – the latest release in this series is dedication to variations.
While Brautigam records exhaustive sets, other performers record some of this piano repertoire on fortepiano. Andreas Staier, who recently released a recording of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations on fortepiano, has never recorded “cycles” of any composer’s works, but flits around from one composer to another.
But these pianists tend to neglect Franz Schubert. Now that Brautigam is reaching the end of his Beethoven cycle, I hope that he will record Schubert’s many wonderful piano works.
But in the meantime, there is an excellent series of recordings of Schubert’s piano sonatas by Paul Badura-Skoda. This pianist recorded all of Schubert’s piano sonatas on three three-disc sets for the Arcana label. (Here’s volume 1.) As with the other composers cited above, the fortepiano brings the listener back to the instrument that the composer used when writing the music. (Or, in the case of Mozart and Haydn, some of their music was originally composed for harpsichord.) The sound is more intimate and the sustain shorter than a modern piano. But when you consider the dynamics, the attack and the sustain, these composers wrote music for those characteristics, not for those of today’s Steinway or Bösendorfer.
Unfortunately, other recordings that Badura-Skoda made for the Astrée label, of the Impromptus, the Moments Musicaux and the Wanderer Fantasie, are out of print, and are very expensive. One can hope that these will be brought back into print someday.
But I also hope that Brautigam will start recording Schubert. He is a sensitive musician, and his recordings of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven are excellent. I love listening to music of this period on original instruments. If you haven’t done so, I strongly recommend some of these recordings by Brautigam and Badura-Skoda.
Beyond the works for solo piano, what about lieder recorded with fortepiano? The six discs of “Poets of Sensibility” in the Naxos Schubert Complete Lieder set use a fortepiano, and the results are very interesting. And the recordings of the three song cycles on Musica Omnia have Penelope Crawford playing fortepiano. (I’ll be reviewing those discs soon.) But this is the exception. Other than a handful of lieder recordings with fortepiano, there is little HIP (historically-informed performance) attention paid to Schubert’s lieder. It would be very interesting if there were a new recording of the complete lieder with fortepiano. One can only hope…
I like Ian Bostridge’s Schubert. He really seems to get the music. I find that, in this performance, there is a very clear distinction between the way he sings the two voices in the song. Some may find his approach a bit extreme, especially the way he sings “Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt.” But Bostridge’s theatricality works well in this performance.
Schubert’s lieder is one of my favorite parts of the classical repertory, and I have to confess that I’m an inveterate fan of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing these works. I have dozens of his recordings, from the early EMI recitals to the “complete” DG set, as well as many of his various versions of Winterreise and the other songs cycles, together with many of the more recently released radio performances.
But a few years ago, by way of Deutsche Grammophon’s download site, I picked up a set of Hermann Prey’s recordings on the cheap. Not being familiar with his works – he had never come into my radar – I was impressed by how wonderful his voice was and how rich was his technique. Unfortunately, while he recorded a fair amount of lieder, his catalogue is nothing like that of Fischer-Dieskau’s; while he recorded the three song cycles, which appear on this DVD set, he didn’t record many other Schubert lieder.
Die Schöne Müllerin starts off this two-disc set, with Hermann Prey and pianist Leonard Hokanson singing on a set made up to look like a bourgeois music room. With furniture along the walls, windows looking out on painted backdrops, and some “sun” streaming in, it is meant to look as though the two just got together for some amiable music-making after a good Viennese lunch.
For Schwanengesang, the set is the same, but it is evening. While Prey and Hokanson are well lit, the rest of the set is very dark at times. For Winterreise, the setting is similar, but with more normal studio lighting. It’s daytime again, and one can glimpse frost on the windows and snow on a tree outside.
Prey is natural and seems as though he’s singing for a few friends; he embraces the camera, whose many tight shots keep this recording intimate. (Though these close-ups can be odd; during Ihr Bild, in Schwanengesang, all but the first few seconds of the song feature a close-up of Prey, which zooms in slowly during the first minutes to maintain nothing but his head on screen; this technique is used with other songs too.) While his smiles sometimes seem forced, it is clear that he truly loves and understands this music, and he is able to express this in the subtle manner in which he approaches it. Yet he can be very strong and forceful, such as when singing the powerful Der Doppelgänger, in Schwanengesang. Here, Prey shows the dark side of this music, and does so with violent expressiveness.
While Prey seems very comfortable, Hokanson is one of those pianists who looks as though he’s working hard when he plays. He has sheet music for the songs on his piano as he plays, which is a bit disturbing. I understand that musicians may need this in concert, but you’d think that for a recording like this they’d be able to play from memory. During Winterreise, Helmut Deutsch seems more absorbed in the music than Hokanson, hunched over his piano, though he, too, needs to have score on his piano.
The sound is both good and mediocre. The first piano notes in Die Schöne Müllerin show that the piano didn’t record well; it booms a bit, sounds muddy when alone, and is, at times, a bit too loud compared with Prey’s voice. (It’s better in the stereo mix than in the faux-5.1 version.) The piano sound is better for Winterreise. Prey, however, sounds excellent; his voice comes through clearly and the smooth character of his singing is evident with each word. At times, though, the sound is very strange. In Der Atlas, the second song of Schwanengesang, Prey’s voice suddenly sounds strident, as though there were a problem with the recording. It is much louder than the previous song in that cycle (and the songs in Die Schöne Müllerin), and sounds as though he was miked differently. The rest of the songs sound normal, though occasionally, in the louder sections, the levels go into the red.
So what about the performances? Prey is pretty darned good in these song cycles. I’ve heard many singers tackle them, and Prey is one of those who sings these works without exaggeration or misplaced mannerisms. He may seem a bit wooden when singing, but this betrays a certain stability in his approach. While he can be forceful when necessary, and lyrical when the music calls for it, he seems to find the right balance for most of the songs. This is a wonderful set, with all three of the cycles recorded in similar circumstances and close together, though it’s a shame they weren’t recorded a decade earlier, when Prey was truly in his prime.
For those unfamiliar with Hermann Prey, this is a wonderful way to get to know this great singer. For those who know his work, this set is a must-have. Prey shows here that he can rival the best.
Here is a clip from the Winterreise video; Hermann Prey sings Gefrorne Tränen:
Franz Schubert composed hundreds of lieder, beginning as early as 1810, at age 14, and continuing until his death in 1828. He was a prodigious composer, and in 1815 alone he composed 142 songs. Schubert’s lieder defines the genre – while he did not create the German lieder, he certainly carried it to such a level of refinement that his name is forever linked with this type of music.
Lieder are merely solo songs accompanied usually by piano. What could be simpler? Yet, within this apparently restrictive genre, Schubert composed such a wealth of material that one can explore his lieder for an entire lifetime. This is what late author John Reed did. Spending decades exploring Schubert’s music, he eventually helped found the Schubert Institute in the United Kingdom.
This book is Reed’s testament – a magnum opus presenting 631 songs by Schubert. (The actual number of songs he wrote is difficult to pin down. Reed points out that one must choose whether variants are counted separately, and explains that the total could be anywhere from 603 to 708. Though Hyperion Records’ Complete Songs contains 731 songs, in part because it includes songs for more than one singer.)
Each song is presented in this book with the first few measures of its melody, an English translation of the text, a paragraph describing when the song was written and published, and a one or several paragraph appreciation of the song. The songs are presented in alphabetical order, allowing Schubertians to learn more about each of his songs. From the best-known songs, such as those from the cycles Die Winterreise or Die Schöne Mullerin, to the songs of Schubert’s youth, less well-known yet just as interesting, this book is a program to the life’s work of the greatest composer of this type of music.
In addition to the presentations of individual songs, there are sections dealing with the three song cycles, and a list of authors of the texts used by Schubert. A series of appendices examine some interesting details – which keys Schubert used most, a calendar of how many songs he wrote each month and each year (where we learn that he wrote as many as 28 songs in the month of August, 1815), information on the songs published during Schubert’s lifetime, and more.
What is lacking in this book is a more general examination of Schubert’s lieder. It would have been useful to have an introductory essay dealing with the forms and social context of these works. However, fans of Schubert’s lieder would best turn to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s book, Schubert: a Biographical Study of his Songs, which, unfortunately, is out of print in English. (I have a copy of the French translation, which, alas, is also out of print. It is available in German.) Or, for those who have been collecting the monumental Hyperion Schubert Lieder edition, the liner notes to that series contain a wealth of information.
This huge book is a must for all serious lovers of Schubert’s lieder. Its presentation of virtually every Schubert song provides a tremendous amount of material for those who wish to learn more about this monument of music.