Baritone Christian Gerhaher apparently got his start on the budget Arte Nova label (a Sony/BMG spin-off), where he recorded the four great Schubert cycles in one set (Die Schone Mullerin, Winterreise, Schwanegesang, and Gesange des Harfners). This is my first exposure to his rich baritone, and it certainly makes me want to seek out the Arte Nova release, as it probably goes for around 21 bucks. If those cycles are anything like the selection he offers us here, it is quite a steal.
Gerhaher is that oddity in the vocal world, the recital specialist. While he has given himself some operatic roles, his predominant activity is spent in the lieder world, and one can only applaud this. Lieder seems to be going strong these days, at least in the halls, though many record companies seem hesitant to give their star vehicles an opportunity to indulge in more specialized efforts. I mentioned to Rene Fleming years ago that I would love to see an all-Barber album by her, and she agreed it was something she would like to do, but obviously the folks at Decca felt differently. So kudos to RCA for at least allowing this one to see the light of day, even if it is in the relative safety of Schubert, various songs from varied sources.
And safety is the right word, for one can hardly go wrong recording anything by this man. He had it all—disappointing lifetime, romantic sensibilities, close circle of well-defined and politically uniform friends, and a penchant for setting poets that were of his generation and time, all of whom were probably considered revolutionary. His subject matter covers love, wandering, high-minded (if unobtainable) ideals, and the mysteries of the night. This is juicy stuff, all of it, and Schubert’s unaffected and masterly way of underpinning his words with appropriately painted music, and his uncanny sense of key modulation—no one ever did it better—keep us attentive and enthralled, even in the midst of a simple strophic form.
The one thing that kept pressing my mind when listening to this disc is how much Gerhaher sounds like Fischer-Dieskau. It is really uncanny, so much so that I had to keep reminding myself that this was recorded in sound of the likes that F-D never experienced. And I did wonder if this was an affectation adopted by the artist. I don’t think so, for he is too consistent. But as an avid F-D fan (and Gerhaher is not nearly as emotive as F-D could be—probably a generational thing) I am thrilled to hear this, as it brings back wonderful memories that are only a shelf away from me. Gerhaher has a wonderful way of floating a pianissimo, and most of all, knows how to tell a story, vital in Schubert. His baritone is not as thick-walled as F-D, retaining a lightness and buoyancy that allows it to float easily over the many subtle turns of phrase that Schubert inserts into his text-driven music.
This is an outstanding release by a fine artist. Need I mention that pianist Gerold Huber provides the perfect accompaniment?
Bei dir allein
Dass sie hier gewesen
Drang in die Ferne
Auf der Bruck
Des Fischers Liebesgluck
Du bist die Ruh
Willkommen und Abschied
— Steven Ritter