SCHUBERT: Adrast (fragment); Szene aus Faust; Five Lieder; Ellens Zweiter Gesang; Erlkonig – Barbara Berens, sop./ Martin Nagy, tenor/ Steffen Lachenmann, bar./ Kammerchor Potsdam/ Brandenburger Sym./ Gernot Schulz – Ars Production

by | Nov 13, 2014 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

SCHUBERT: Adrast (fragment), D 137; Szene aus Faust (arr. Naumann), D 126; Five Lieder (arr. Brahms); Ellens Zweiter Gesang (arr. Brahms), D 838; Erlkonig (arr. Berlioz), D 126 – Barbara Berens, sop./ Martin Nagy, tenor/ Steffen Lachenmann, bar,/ Kammerchor Potsdam/ Brandenburger Sym./ Gernot Schulz – Ars Production multichannel SACD ARS 38 114, 00:00 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Schubert’s music has always been subject to arrangements—Liszt comes to mind immediately. He’s not here, but Berlioz and Brahms are, and the renditions of these songs, especially the Scene from Faust (Part 1, scene 20), are most impressive. Schubert tackled Faust, as so many others of the period, in one of his first encounters with the poetry of Goethe. In 1816 a friend of the composer wrote to Goethe and sent 15 lieder, which Goethe ignored. Only after Schubert’s death did the writer understand how impressive Schubert’s over 70 settings of his poetry are, and in many instances—it must be admitted—gave the work a depth and profundity it does not have on the written page.

Brahms also was fascinated by the composer, feeling that there “is no lied by Schubert from which one cannot learn something”, and his arrangements show all of the love and devotion one would expect. Berlioz, always looking for the grand effect, certainly imparted it to Schubert’s Opus 1 Erlkonig, as if the piano part itself could actually lack anything.

But the big attraction here is the almost 40-minute fragmented singspiel Adrast, on a text by the composer’s best friend Johann Mayrhofer, who followed Herodotus (ca. 450 B.C.) from an episode of his History. The work has seven complete numbers and four incomplete ones, and is thought to have been designed for three acts, yet it was never completed, as were a host of Schubert’s other theatrical pieces—at least 20. The stage and Schubert didn’t exactly mesh during his lifetime, even though there is a critical reassessment going on now. Schubert had a better dramatic sense than he is given credit for, though stylistically he was not up to date, and his music, in most cases, far overshadows the librettos he dealt with. Yet this is well worth hearing as some of the music is ravishing. Action-wise, the main character is condemned by fate to twice murder those close to him, and Schubert really does capture the drama inherent in this Oedipus-like story.

The performances are singers are quite solid, if not top-class, and the recording is well-spread in the surround. Off the beaten path but essential for devoted Schubertians.

—Steven Ritter

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