Beethoven
An die ferne Geliebte, Op.98
Schubert
Schwanengesang, D957
Matthias Goerne (baritone) &
Alfred Brendel (piano)

Recorded live in Wigmore Hall, London on 5 & 7 November 2003
CD No: Decca 475 6011
Duration: 72 minutes
Reviewed: May 2005
This recording is made up of two live recitals, which allows opportunity to correct errors and edit-out extraneous noises. It may suit all concerned – the artists, and therefore listeners, have an interpretation that benefits from the integrity and adrenaline of being from a concert, and producers have no requirement to choose between endless versions of the same passage. Recorded in the Wigmore Hall, it is a pleasure to have the venue’s ambience so well reflected in the bloom of the recording.
I grew up with 'baritone lieder singing' standing for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Compared to his emphasis on diction and word-painting, Matthias Goerne concentrates on the line and flow of the melody – his tones are rich chocolate against Fischer-Dieskau's more steely beauty. Alfred Brendel (here playing his own piano) already has a distinguished discography as a song accompanist: his limpid clarity and intuitive sense of Viennese style are a delight.
Schubert’s “Schwanengesang” was not conceived as a cycle. Rather, it is a publisher's arrangement of Schubert’s settings of Rellstab and Heine, and one of Seidl. At the Wigmore Hall, an interval occurred between the Rellstab and Heine songs.
Enshrined here are interpretations close to the ideal. Goerne gives the Rellstab songs a weight and profundity they do not have as poems – the desolation of the warrior's mood before battle in “Kriegers Ahnung” is especially fine. There are plenty of highlights in the piano part, the clip-clop in “Abschied”, the lilt of “Die Taubenpost”, although Brendel seems leaden in the famous “Ständchen”. The Heine settings are legendary for their evocation of the spiritual, the other world. Here, they have seriousness, a world-weariness and tragedy (where Fischer-Dieskau conjures terror and the uncanny), and which will repay much repetition.
“An die ferne Geliebte” is impeccable; I wondered therefore why I did not warm to it still more. The protagonist of the cycle is vulnerable, naïve even; yet Goerne's confidence and Brendel's innate sense of style do not completely suspend disbelief. From the first phrases of “Auf dem Hügel sitz' ich…” Goerne is certain and deliberate. Yet the very virtues that make his interpretation structurally tight, moving inexorably to the gift of the songs to the distant beloved at the end, detracts from the sense of innocence in the poetry. Where gravitas perfectly suits “Schwanengesang”, it becomes gravity in the Beethoven, dragging down the sense of yearning. But there are many moments of felicity, notably the central transition from the evocation of clouds and birds (much aided by Brendel's trills and phrasing) to the rejoicing of May's arrival.

 

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