RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Willkommen und Abschied D767 [3:43]
Der Wanderer D489 [4:55]
Rastlose Liebe D138 [1:24]
Der Wanderer an den Mond D870 [2:17]
Wandrers Nachtlied D768 [2:08]
Aus Heliopolis II D754 [2:18]
Seven Rellstab-Lieder from Schwanengesang D957
‘In der Ferne’ [6:11]
Der Schiffer D536 [2:00]
Der Schiffer D694 [3:36]
An eine Quelle D530 [2:01]
Am Strome D539 [2:38]
Auf der Donau D553 [3:01]
Auf dem Wasser zu singen D774 [3:40]
Der Pilgrim D794 [4:29]
Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren D360 [3:02]
Der Musensohn D764 [2:09]
Roderick Williams (baritone); Iain Burnside (piano)
rec. 21-24 October 2015, St Mary’s Parish Church, Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland
German texts and English translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34170 [72:41]
Here is a very fine and perceptively selected Schubert recital from Roderick Williams in which he is expertly partnered by Iain Burnside. Williams has written the booklet notes and he makes a number of telling points in writing – and even more when singing.
Williams’ chosen theme is 'The Wanderer', an idea that can be expanded to include the outsider, loner or exile. The theme crops up explicitly, for example, in Der Wanderer where the poet mentions, in the second stanza, ‘Fremdling’ (‘the stranger’) and Williams gives gentle emphasis to the word as he sings it. Burnside’s piano introduction is full of tension and foreboding and as the song unfolds there are several shifts of mood, to each of which the artists respond acutely. Williams’ soft high notes - for example at the end of the first stanza - are wonderful to hear. He sings with particular expression in the fifth stanza and, all in all, this is an outstanding performance.
Side by side with this disc I’ve been listening to another excellent Schubert CD featuring the young baritone, Benjamin Appl. Both singers offer Der Wanderer an den Mond in their respective programmes. Appl’s version is very good but Williams’ reading is much more nuanced. Wandrers Nachtlied is a short song, lasting only a couple of minutes, but, my goodness, Schubert seems to encompass a vast expanse during its course. The present performance is rapt. Aus Heliopolis II brings a compete change of mood, requiring the performers to switch immediately to a more imposing, dramatic style; that’s achieved here. For this song Williams seems to harden his tone, deliberately and appropriately, though despite that the sense of line never suffers.
When I listen to a performance of Schwanengesang I usually feel that the songs by Heine are of greater stature than those by Rellstab. Whilst I’m not sure I’d change that view Roderick Williams’ decision to divorce the Rellstab settings from the Schwanengesang context makes me appreciate them much more strongly. On the surface ‘Liebesbotschaft’ seems quite a straightforward song. However, Williams inflects the words with due understanding and invests them with meaning. I admire his legato and sense of line here. In his notes he suggests that ‘Kriegers Ahnung’ is a precursor of some of Mahler’s military settings from Des Knaben Wunderhorn; he certainly sings it as such, offering an intense performance.
It’s consistent with Williams’ questing approach that he and Burnside bring out the dark side of the famous ‘Ständchen’. Dark the interpretation may be – and convincing – but in no way does this approach mean that the singing is less than beautiful; indeed, it seems sensuous to me. ‘In der Ferne’ receives an intense reading – here, once again, we meet the Outsider. In this song Williams displays great control, both in a vocal and emotional sense. Finally, the tongue-twisting text of ‘Abschied’ is lightly delivered while Burnside’s evocative pianism suggests the wheels of a carriage bowling along. These terrific performances of the Rellstab group from Schwanengesang have certainly made me think afresh about these songs.
The remaining songs bring a maritime dimension to the Wanderer theme. The first two songs are both entitled Der Schiffer but have only their title in common. The first, a setting of Mayrhofer, portrays a manly, determined sailor who is undaunted by stormy weather. By contrast, Schlegel’s sailor is so relaxed that he’s horizontal – literally. After the strong delivery of the Mayrhofer song this second Der Schiffer is a gift to Williams’ seamless legato In this song Schubert’s dreamy, liquid music even requires the singer to hum at the end of the first and last stanzas.
Am Strome is a lovely, easeful cantilena, delectably sung here. In one of many contrasts within this programme the next song, Auf der Donau starts in deceptively easy fashion but soon becomes much darker. The juxtaposition of the two songs works very well. Auf dem Wasser zu singen is beautifully done; the piano part shimmers and the vocal line is fluidly delivered. The bitter-sweet nature of the song is expertly conveyed. Der Pilgrim is a fascinating creation. The sturdy, confident opening, portraying a young man setting off on his quest, makes us wonder if the Outsider will finally come in from the cold. However, the mood changes; as Williams puts it the young man realises that ‘There is never Here’ and so the concluding stanza is all about melancholy and dashed hopes.
Finally, Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren is, for the most part, calm and serene while the recital ends with a nimble, eager rendition of Der Musensohn.
This is a most intelligently planned programme and the execution by Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside is superb. The recital is as enjoyable as it is distinguished.
Delphian’s presentational standards are as high as usual. The recorded sound is very pleasing. The church venue imparts a pleasing but far from excessive resonance and the singer is heard in excellent balance with the piano. The booklet is excellent.
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