SCHUBERT: Schwanengesang; Die Taubenpost; Herbst; Der Winterabend – Robert Holl, bass-baritone/ Roger Vignoles, piano – Hyperion CDA67657, 63:17 **** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:
Is Schubert rolling over in his grave because compiler Haslinger decided to assemble his last known songs and present them to the public as the composer’s Swansong? Probably a little. Schubert of course had no intention of collecting these songs by two poets (Heine and Rellstab) and putting them together in an order that doesn’t make particular literary, dramatic, or textual sense. Nature, love, separation–all of the usual romantic themes–are present in these exquisite miniatures, and the “cycle” has definitely stood the test of time as one of the greatest ever composed. So I supposed we must give Haslinger some credit for at least knowing good tunes and stories when he heard them, and they join their place in the pantheon of Winterreise and Die Schone Mullerin as perhaps the greatest collection of songs ever assembled by anyone anywhere.
Of course they have also been subjected to a variety of voices, timbres, and vocal ranges; I have just finished comparing bass-baritone Holl with baritone Fischer-Dieskau (his EMI mono recording) and the recent Werner Gura tenor on Harmonia mundi. F-D will always be a favorite here, for he of all people understood Schubert at a time when perhaps the composer’s songs were cherry-picked more often than not, and was the first to demonstrate the exquisite harmony that really could be found in this collection of disparate jewels. But I have to admit, Holl makes a case; listening to his rather heavy bass trippingly tip-toeing along the seamless and rapturous lines of “Stadchen” proves the elephant really can dance in ballerina shoes. The words mean something to him, and he is desirous of presenting that meaning to us with every vocal nuance he can come up with. Mind you, there are a few moments when the dramatic weight of his voice seems too ponderous, but it is to his credit that those instances are few and far between. As a bonus we get three songs not included in the published set but which are eminently Schuberitan in style and substance and thankfully included.
Roger Vignoles (maybe today’s best accompanist going) plays with a clarity and feeling that knows when to assert itself and when to recede. Hyperion’s sound is excellent, and this is a fine addition to an already-monstrous catalog. Definitely worth a hearing.
— Steven Ritter