SCHUBERT: Schwanegesang – Werner Gura, tenor/ Christoph Berner, piano – Harmonia mundi

by | Jun 15, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUBERT: Schwanegesang – Werner Gura, tenor/ Christoph Berner, piano – Harmonia mundi HMC 9001931, 69:37 ****(*):

Because of its varied nature—a collection as opposed to a cycle—Schubert’s Swansong is not often give the same attention that his other cycles get, though it is by no means under- recorded. These last 14 songs are some of the greatest ever penned, though they seem to show up on individual recitals as single entities instead of a whole. This is not a great loss, for the collection is widely disparate in terms of tone and temperament, and we find ourselves flowing through fields of love before then tripping over battle armament. Nonetheless, it is still worthwhile to hear them all at once, as a few don’t show up too often in concert, yet should.

Werner Gura has become HM’s house tenor, and already has several successful recordings to his credit. I find the voice of this young gentleman most pleasing; it is not overly mannered and is shorn of any irritating quirks or subtle flaws. He sings the music is a straightforward manner, not over-emphasizing texts for the sake of dramatic purpose, or emoting beyond that which seems called for. The tone is excellent, and he goes to great effort to enunciate the words with clarity and force. Having said this, I would not consider it to be among the very top ranks of Schwanegesangs perhaps because of these very reasons. For though an added degree of interpretative finesse usually means some sort of mannered behavior that will offend some, it is also this excess that is usually present in the very greatest interpretations. My favorite, that of Fischer-Dieskau on EMI (mono), has many of these characteristics that send some people out of the room. But others, like Terfel and Quasthoff, also have their little peccadilloes, and all to the good.

But I cannot write this recording off because of these superior versions as Gura is too good for that; my inclination is to think that as the years progress he will get even better. His pianist, Christoph Berner, is a superb accompanist who plays on a Friedrich Ehrbar concerto grand from 1877. Though this piano apparently is quite advanced for the time, the notes tell us that it retains a characteristic Viennese sonority of the time. What this has to do with authenticity I am not sure, as this is way beyond Schubert’s time and this sound is miles from what he would have imagined. And I am not sure if Gura is singing this music based on any period perspectives, but it could explain his rather vanilla approach.

Be that as it may, the piano still sounds quite modern and shouldn’t cause anyone to get a case of hives from fortepianoitis. This is an admirable release that should garner many adherents.

— Steven Ritter 

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