SCHUBERT Complete Lieder, Vol. 1 – Baker/Johnson
Graham Johnson has explained, in his interview with Hilary Finch on page 532, the aims and purpose of his enormously enterprising Hyperion Schubert Edition. Suffice it for me to say that it is auspiciously and emphatically begun with this continually absorbing record by Dame Janet Baker and the progenitor of the series. Let it not be forgotten that throughout the 30 years of her distinguished career Dame Janet has espoused the cause of Schubert song in its many manifestations. I recall being introduced by her on the old BBC Third Programme to a great number of rare Schubert songs. One of her first records (for Saga) included some of them. Later she made a two-LP set for DG (nla), in some ways an intended supplement to Fischer-Dieskau's huge enterprise referred to by Johnson both in his interview and in the introduction to this generously filled CD. That Fischer-Dieskau issue was an almost superhuman effort; Johnson now feels, rightly l think, that it's time for a new approach employing, as it were, a repertory company of singers chosen for specific tasks.
Dame Janet's is a selection of widely varying settings of Goethe and Schiller. Right the way through she demonstrates again her unerring ability to seize on the mood and character of each song and project it with the imaginative elan that has always been a special quality in her singing. In every case she makes you listen to the familiar, as much as the unfamiliar, with an enthusiasm that answers her own approach. Whether it is the dramatic declamation of Der Alpenjager, with its startlingly modern message of protecting beasts from man's unthinking destruction, or the intimacy of the Metaphysical thoughts in Schiller's Thekla, the smiling constancy of Goethe's Nahe des Geliebten, or the melancholic intensity of An den Mond, she is there with the appropriate tone and above all the immediacy of response to the meaning of the text. That is not something that can be ever taught, it is inborn. Even a single couplet, such as that which ends the wonderful and unjustly neglected Amalia (Schiller's counterpart to Goethe's Gretchen, as Johnson says in one of his perceptive notes on the songs), Baker tells us as much: the whole soul of the despairing woman is here conjured up. And how few singers could maintain, as she does, the listener's interest through the long and occasionally diffuse ballad, Die Erwartung.
So what about the singer's voice at this stage of her career? It is no longer that of a young woman and it would be useless to pretend that it is, but I hear no falling off in technical control—listen to how she carries through in one breath the two lines, ''Jener holden... meine Wunden''—in Erster Verlust, another marvellous Goethe setting, by the way. And, as I hope I have suggested so many particular insights into poetic and musical meaning are offered by Dame Janet and Johnson that any reservation about beauty of tone fades into insignificance. When this series is completed in ten years time, I think we shall look back on its beginning with deep gratitude. Richard Wigmore's translations from his new book, The Complete Song Texts (Gollancz: 1988) are to be used throughout the series; they are admirable.'