Schubert Complete Lieder, Vol.18
The halfway point in this invaluable series could not be more appropriately or auspiciously celebrated than with this superlative issue from the foremost interpreter of Lieder still active, indeed one of the greatest singers of songs in the history of recording. The passing of time seems hardly to have touched the peculiar beauty of his timbre, and his skill in the treatment of words is, of course, as gratifying as ever. Johnson has chosen this collection with emphasis on the composer's strophic songs. His notes, though not mentioning Schreier by name, often refer to the need for his particular attributes in interpreting them, for example: ''Words [in strophic songs] must often seem to be more spoken than sung, and everything must be done to avoid the impression of dutifully intoning a tune, as if in the schoolroom. The strophic song is an art born of discipline, but a straitjacket squeezes the life out of it.'' There is no suggestion of a straitjacket in the marvellously imaginative performances enshrined here. And Johnson seems himself to have been inspired by his singer to surpass even his own high standards. Schreier's invigorating and pointed sense of rhythm is aptly seconded at the piano throughout.
So much included here is unjustly neglected—or seems so when performed with such dedication and understanding. The paradox of intensity within simplicity of Die Nacht, one of two Uz settings here, the gentle harmonies of the other, An den Schlaf, the inspired juxtapositions of the two Holty settings, Auf den Tod einer Nachtigall and Erntelied, showing Schubert's gifts in perceiving sadness (elegiac A minor) in the first, and joy in the second, the strange Wolfian harmonies of Das Heimweh—these are some unexpected pleasures of the early tracks. But then their attributes, rewarding as they are, are put into perspective by the first real masterpiece, An die Entfernte, one of the great songs about lost love: it is given a searing performance that befits its stark mood, such a line as ''Dich rufen alle meine Lieder'' projected with Schreier's most intense tone and accentuation—multum in parvo, music and reading, indeed. The final line of Heimweh, the only non-strophic song in the recital and a splendid example of Schubert's ability to shape structure to poems, has similar attributes in both respects.
The last half of this generously filled disc is devoted to settings of the erratic, erotic genius of Ernst Schulze. Johnson makes a strong case for grouping them into a mini-cycle which he calls Auf den wilden Wegen (''On the wild paths'') as the poet in his obsession with his unrequited love for Adelheid Tychsen wanders far and wide in his imagination, ever longing for the girl. The cycle or group contains two acknowledged masterpieces, ''Auf der Bruck'' and ''Im Fruhling'', long ago paired by Pears and Britten, on an HMV 78rpm record (4/52). It says much that the new partnership surpass even their distinguished predecessors. In the first Johnson makes light of the fiendish piano part, and the pair drive forward the rhythms with irresistible panache; in the second Johnson's treatment of the variation is airy and translucent. The energetic despair of ''Auf der Bruck'' reminds Johnson of Alice in Wonderland who ''has to run in order to stay in the same place''. Space runs out and I have yet to expatiate on the merits of the many rare and satisfying songs and performances remaining, none more so than those of ''Im Janner 1817'', spuriously known as Tiefes Leid, a piece—more than any other here—pre-echoing Winterreise. In just one case, Der liebliche Stern, do I feel that Johnson, in his notes, reads too much into what is only a lightweight song.
Throughout the faithful, well-balanced recording is happily supportive of the disc. As already implied the notes are as perceptive as they are extensive. Buy.'