SCHUBERT Schwanengesang – Schreier/Schiff
This is a wonderful disc by any standard. Indeed, the partnership of Schreier and Schiff—it's a masterstroke of Decca to bring them together to record the Schubert cycles—recalls that of Pears and Britten, Fischer-Dieskau and Moore. Both are such perceptive, such probing artists that the sum total of their work here produces profoundly satisfying accounts of the songs in hand. Yet, lest that suggests they in some way impose themselves in an untoward manner on the songs, let me add that everything they do seems to arise quite naturally from the page. But, beware, you need to be in a strong frame of mind to stand the sheer intensity of feeling the pair bring to the Heine settings in Schwanengesang. When Schreier last recorded this 'cycle', with Olbertz (DG—nla) all of 18 years ago, his performances of the Heine settings were searing enough; here they have become so anguished as to expose every nerve end in their depiction of lost love, and Schiff's realization of the piano's role seconds the singer's probings perfectly.
Such details as the bare octaves of ''Die Stadt'', the placing of the four-note motive in ''Doppelganger'', and the amazing range of colour and dynamics in ''Der Atlas'' are truly revelatory: they and other imaginative ideas have made me think again about songs I thought I knew so well. Similarly, Schreier's particular gift of alighting on key phrases in songs and giving them just that extra emphasis which means so much is often newly illuminating, adding further point to his already familiar assets of 'speaking' the music without affecting line or tone—except when he wants to use a harsh voice deliberately as in the defiance of ''Der Atlas''.
The readings of the Rellstab settings in Schwanengesang are no less impressive as in the tragic force achieved by both artists for ''In der Ferne''. As if to leaven the force of their performances of the serious songs, the relief of the lighter ones is that much more welcome, especially when they are done with such alternating fervour and lightness. In ''Standchen'', Schreier's lyrical outpouring of steady tone and intimate ardour is matched by Schiff's perfect imitation of the mandolin. In ''Abschied'' Schiff gives the trotting rhythm an exhilarating briskness and Schreier pointedly varies the vocal line. Only ''Fruhlingssehnsucht'' seems to be misinterpreted: at the performers' chosen speed it becomes a bit of a gabble.
Fischer-Dieskau on EMI achieves similar insights in Schwanengesang, but Schreier, being a tenor, avoids the further gloom, in the darker songs, of downward transposition, and in the lighter ones the tenor also has the advantage—which isn't to belittle the older singer's well-tried performance. The new disc gains points from including the usually excluded Herbst and then for adding at the end three late Seidl settings that form another convenient group. I have never heard the lilting of ''Taubenpost''—the final song of Schwanengesang, of course—so effortlessly stroked. Each of the Seidl settings provides more insights which I shall leave for you to discover—for this is really a 'must' for any Lieder collection. Its merits are enhanced by John Reed's informative notes and by an ideally balanced recording in an acoustic that is neither too close or too reverberant—just right (credit to Christopher Raeburn, the producer).'