This is the second release on Alpha to celebrate the 70th birthday of Jos van Immerseel. The first was a coupling with his Anima Eterna orchestra of Janáček and Dvořák (10/15), but this feels in all senses a more relaxed affair, both in terms of the project and its execution.
On each of the set’s four discs Immerseel presents an imagined Schubertiad, but is not attempting historical reconstructions, he says in his booklet-note. He aims instead for ‘varietas’, an aim that he certainly achieves, mixing music rare and well known. There are some wonderful vocal quartets, for example, with perhaps the disarming ‘Der Gondelfahrer’ the pick of the bunch, sensitively sung by baritone Bauer (also entrusted with the baritone songs across the set) and his colleagues in the evocatively named Schubertiade Quartett Bayerischer Wald.
It’s great, too, to have a good batch of piano duet pieces, for which Immerseel is joined by Claire Chevallier on a sweetly mellow Conrad Graf instrument from 1826 in performances of a relaxed intimacy and musicality that is entirely in keeping with the project. The instrument itself is nicely captured by the warm recording. There’s not much that’s very stormy about the late Lebensstürme Allegro, however, or the wilder sections of the Fantasie. Immerseel and Chevallier also seem slightly oblivious to the magic of these works’ many heart-stopping modulations: they sound prosaic, for example, at the magical shift to the major in the Fantasie’s first F sharp minor Largo section (at 5'50"). (A quick listen to Robert Levin and Malcolm Bilson on an admittedly brighter and less clangourous c1830 Graf demonstrates what more can be done here.)
The piano itself, although obviously having great claims to special authenticity, holds the chamber works back a little, too. In the Trout Quintet, for example, Immerseel seems to be confined to a limited mezzo-piano to mezzo-forte range, even if there’s some wonderful delicacy throughout from his colleagues – and it’s interesting to hear how much more relaxed and measured this performance is than his earlier Sony account with L’Archibudelli.
Steffano Veggetti is seductively sweet-toned on his 1750 violoncello piccolo in the Arpeggione Sonata, and Midori Seiler similarly appealing in the D408 Violin Sonatina. All three come together for an account of the E flat Trio’s Andante, a slightly anomalous odd-one-out, not least since the work, composed for the virtuoso violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh and his colleagues, is conceived on an altogether grander scale.
Immerseel is perhaps at his best in the song accompaniments, bringing gentle flexibility and constant insight to his part, even if Yeree Suh’s soubrettish soprano and Marianne Beate Kielland’s small-scale mezzo don’t really seem well matched to the dramatic demands of some of the bigger numbers; I find Bauer’s baritone contributions more consistently satisfying. It’s notable that the booklet refers primarily to the cosy Gemütlichkeit of Schubert’s Vienna, choosing to ignore the quiet rebelliousness that was a constant beneath the Biedermeier veneer of the Metternich era. This set offers a great deal to enjoy but might have been more compelling had the performances sought to capture the latter as well as the former.