SCHUBERT Schwanengesang (Bo Skovhus)
I had my problems with Bo Skovhus’s recent Schöne Müllerin (7/17), and many of the same issues, alas, blight his new Schwanengesang. Or, rather, the same primary issue: the dry, worn state of the Danish baritone’s voice. These late songs, however, are arguably a better fit for his once-handsome baritone as it now is.
I resist using the word ‘cycle’, and the disc’s cover is in fact misleading. ‘Die Taubenpost’ is here positioned among the five Seidl settings that come first; then come the Heine settings, followed by the Rellstab, into which is interpolated ‘Der Herbst’. It’s the same reordering and expansion as Skovhus presented on his 1995 Sony account of the cycle (10/95) and it’s not a bad idea, meaning that we now end, appropriately enough, with ‘Abschied’.
There’s a jarring shift in tone, though, as we go from the bustling ‘Bei dir allein’ into ‘Der Atlas’, which then in turn segues almost immediately into ‘Ihr Bild’. The latter is one of the more successful songs, though, in which Skovhus’s weary tone is allied to an eloquent intensity of expression. Likewise, there’s something to be said for the sepulchral atmosphere he and Vladar achieve in ‘Die Stadt’, and even the gnarly honesty of their ‘Doppelgänger’. The pair bring a nice springiness to ‘Der Abschied’, too.
But the desiccated sound of Skovhus’s baritone constantly gets in the way of enjoyment – he can occasionally put some flesh on the bones in the middle of the register, but it peters out at the bottom of the range and thins at the top. Nor has he really come up with a compelling interpretative strategy to compensate, beyond an emphatic way with the words.
Vladar’s playing is perfectly decent – and one would expect nothing less – but lacks immediacy in a recorded balance that tries to offer his colleague a helping hand. Another disappointment, I’m afraid.