SCHUBERT Lieder – Bryn Terfel
Should I eat my words of last month when I stated that Simon Keenlyside was the ''best baritone interpreter of Schubert this country has ever had'', for now we have Terfel challenging that verdict? But then Keenlyside can be termed English, Terfel Welsh, so I am exonerated. In any case, we can be proud Britain has two such young and accomplished Lieder singers. If one makes comparisons, one can hear—in say Auf der Bruck—that Keenlyside is the more compact, even, classical singer, Terfel the more outgoing, the more daring.
Terfel's gift, now well-known, is a generous, individual voice, a natural feeling for German and an inborn ability to go to the heart of what he attempts. His singing here is grand in scale—listen to any of the dramatic songs and the point is made—but like Hotter, whom he so often resembles (Wotan ought to be in Terfel's repertory within five years), he is able to reduce his large voice to the needs of a sustained, quiet line as in Meerestille. When the two come together as in Der Wanderer, the effect can be truly electrifying, even more so, perhaps, in Erlkonig where the four participants are superbly contrasted: I have seldom heard a more sinister-sounding Erl King, a more panicky child. Yet this is a voice that can also smile as in An die Laute and ''Die Taubenpost'' or express wonder as in Ganymed, a most exhilarating interpretation, or again explode in sheer anger as in the very first song, the strenuous
Terfel wholly overcomes the danger of choosing so many favourites, where we have in mind so many famous readings of the past, by the sheer spontaneity of his approach and his winning, youthful eagerness. Just occasionally that leads to unnecessary over-emphasis, as in an almost too nuanced ''Standchen'' and in too deliberate word-painting in the latter part of Der Wanderer. It is a fault very much on the right side, for here is a singer not afraid to employ rubato and vibrato to make his points and above all to take us right into his interpretations rather than leave us admiring them, as it were, from afar. Throughout, Martineau's at once vigorous and subtle playing is an apt support: his accompaniment in Erlkonig is arrestingly clear and precise. It is good news indeed that the pair have been signed up by DG for more discs of Lieder: this one is pure pleasure.'