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“Schubert Lieder – Orchestrated by Max Reger & Anton Webern” – Christian Elsner, tenor/ Berlin Radio-Sym. Orch./ Marek Janowski – Pentatone

“Schubert Lieder – Orchestrated by Max Reger & Anton Webern” – Christian Elsner, tenor/ Berlin Radio-Sym. Orch./ Marek Janowski – Pentatone multichannel SACD PTC 5186 394, 63:04 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

The orchestral lied is something Schubert would not have heard. Though it is always an entertaining game to wonder what different composers would have made of differing forms that arose later—Bach and the modern orchestra would answer a lot of questions, would it not? — generally speaking such prescient projecting resides in the realm of the intellectual. During Schubert’s time the idea would have been scoffed; though Berlioz was on the cusp of such originality, the Viennese master had his roots in the parlor and the consequent sense of esoteric intimacy. And even though a host of composers have attempted to orchestrate him, the results are a mixed bag, often novel and interesting, but ultimately lacking in staying power.

This disc falls into the same category. I find these pieces absolutely fascinating, though by no means is this the place I would turn when desiring to hear these songs. Partly their existence is because of the fact of new halls being built during the Romantic era. Singers were also turning to these places for piano and voice recitals, and Max Reger at least found this intolerable and set about trying to rectify it. He was very careful and quite capable in his arrangements, ensuring that the voice is heard at all times, yet wishing to fill out Schubert’s often sparse textures to add some warmth and bulk to the sound in a large hall. The results are admirable, and though they are now, curiously, somewhat anachronistic in our day because of great small halls and the recorded legacy where every home becomes a small hall, the artistry is impressive.

No less so are these four early examples by Webern. He too does not display the orchestral fireworks of the Passacaglia but instead manages an adept transformation of the vocal nuances of Schubert’s music to guide him. This is not the pointillist and delicate Webern of the later years, but a very bold, youthful, and quite pragmatic effort in enhancing the presentation of these songs.

Mr. Elsner is a fine Schubertian proponent, a low tenor whose colorful voice adds richness to the lower registers and proceeds with an admirable lightness in the upper. I can’t imagine a more suitable instrument to deliver these songs in this guise. Surround sound is excellent, and though as I said my preferences for the originals is not swayed, many will find this rewarding.

Tracklist: An die Musik D547; Erlkönig, D328; Du bist die Ruh D776 (Rückert); Greisengesang, D778; An den Mond, D296; Prometheus, D674 (Goethe); Nacht und Träume, D827; Gesange des Harfners, D478; Gruppe aus dem Tartarus, second version, D583 (Schiller); Tränenregen (No. 10 from Die schöne Müllerin, D795); Der Wegweiser (No. 20 from Winterreise, D911); Memnon, D541 (Mayrhofer); Ihr Bild, D957 No. 9; Litanei auf das Fest Allerseelen, D343; Im Abendrot, D799

—Steven Ritter

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