Recordings > Recital

Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach: "SCHUBERT: Schwanengesang"

spacer Texts and translations. Harmonia Mundi HMC 902139.40 (2)

GoerneSchwanCD

Matthias Goerne's Schwanengesang offers many lovely moments. The singer knows how to use the musical line as a vehicle to inflect the text and how to time his enunciation of it for dramatic emphasis, minus the Schwarzkopfian exaggerations that some consider de rigueur. He maintains a convincing narrative arc through the seven strophes of the concluding "Die Taubenpost." Vocally, he moves easily through his middle voice at in-between dynamics, so he can project "In der Ferne" and "Die Stadt" with sustained concentration and evoke regret in the final strophe of "Herbst," which Goerne adds to the set as the sixth item, among the other Rellstab settings. (The interpolation doesn't hurt continuity, especially as Schwanengesang is more an anthology than a true song cycle.)

Goerne also understands the expressive potential inherent in purely musical detail — an aspect of song performance that's sometimes slighted. Note his perfect "placing" of the emotionally ambiguous major third that closes "Ständchen" and the way he draws suspense from the false cadence of "In der Ferne." On a broader scale, his spacious manner in the opening "Liebesbotschaft" sets the overall mood for the performance better than does the more usual frantic delivery.

Some flaws have been permitted to pass. Surprisingly for a native German-speaker, Goerne sometimes gets caught in the notes and measures, rather than phrasing over the bar lines, a particular liability in his relentlessly perky "Abschied"; it also produces muddled scansion at the start of "Frühlingssehnsucht." Technically, the heady adjustment Goerne uses so effectively in the midrange isn't quite anchored to the rest of his voice, forcing him into tight or pushed top notes. After a caressing start, an "open" finish to "Ihr Bild" breaks the spell; the indiscreet near-shout at the climax of "Der Döppelgänger" is distracting. The same vocal imbalance probably accounts for the constricted snarl Goerne applies to the low bits of "Die Stadt" and "Kriegers Ahnung," and to all of "Der Atlas," which simply sits too low to allow this singer any vocal give-and-take. 

Christoph Eschenbach, at the piano, seconds his soloist adeptly; he brings out firm, supportive bass lines, but the sonorities are otherwise comparatively monochromatic. He gets the second disc all to himself for the late B-flat Sonata, D. 960, which he invests with suitable mystery and gravitas, and in which his feeling for nuanced, expressive rubato again tells. He draws more varied textures here, particularly in the latter two movements; the broad intensity of the first two could have benefited from similar contrasts. spacer 

STEPHEN FRANCIS VASTA

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Current Issue: August 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 2