SCHUBERT Nacht und Träume
A lot of thought has gone into this lovely album of orchestrated Schubert songs, as conductor Laurence Equilbey makes clear in a booklet note – as well as in an interview in these pages last month. It features, first of all, a period-instrument orchestra, who have opted for a kind of chronological middle ground between the dates of composition and orchestration: their instruments (original or copies) are drawn from around the second half of the 19th century.
The results are beguiling, especially since the conductor has plumped for arrangements that capture a gentler, more limpid sound world than we get in the more robust, Germanic versions by the likes of Max Reger. Indeed, several songs (including a couple of part-songs, limpidly sung by Accentus) appear in skilful new orchestrations by Franck Krawczyk. Where you can pick out the rocking semiquavers in Reger’s ‘Nacht und Träume’, Krawczyk’s – performed relatively swiftly here – offers a mossy pillow of sound.
Liszt’s ‘Die junge Nonne’, Brahms’s ‘Gruppe aus dem Tartarus’ and Berlioz’s ‘Erlkönig’ are made of stern stuff, and Equilbey doesn’t stint on the drama in the latter, in particular. The new arrangements otherwise fit in well with the gentle orchestrations we have elsewhere on the programme: Webern’s lovely ‘Du bist die Ruh’; Britten’s ‘Die Forelle’, with its bubbling clarinet; Strauss’s ‘Ganymed’; or, in particular, Felix Mottl’s tender ‘Ständchen’.
That last song opens the disc and immediately one is struck by the high quality of Stanislas de Barbeyrac’s singing. His interpretations are sensitive and intelligent and his tenor is beautifully controlled – flexible but steely, plangent with bracing hints of the heroic, filling out excitingly in the big phrases of ‘Nacht und Träume’. Wiebke Lehmkuhl is hardly less fine, her mezzo wonderfully limpid and rich.
You get more in the way of hands-on interpretation from, say, Anne Sofie von Otter in her performances of some of the same songs – though not all in the same orchestrations – with Abbado and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Both of these singers, however, fit in perfectly with Equilbey’s more gentle, thoughtful approach.
Fifty minutes is arguably a bit on the stingy side but the recorded sound is mellow and detailed, giving an excellent sense of both the voices and the vivid playing of the Insula Orchestra. Very warmly recommended.