FRANZ SCHUBERT - Schwanengesang

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FRANZ SCHUBERT - Schwanengesang D. 957 - Piano Sonata D. 960 - Matthias Goerne (Baritone) - Christoph Eschenbach (Piano) - 3149020213926 - Released: April 2012 - Harmonia Mundi 902139/40

Last september, I posted a review (here) of another recording of Schwanengesang by Franz Schubert, also on the Harmonia Mundi label, which I considered to be a prime example of music making of the highest order. I especially praised tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Paul Lewis for their intense interpretation of the song Der Doppelgänger, marked by depth of emotion and a high level of characterization. I admired their slow, heartfelt rendition which posts a time of 4:56, considered a bit too slow by some. Well, on this new recording by baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Christoph Eschenbach, that same Der Doppelgänger rings in at an incredible time of 6:26, a full 1 minute and 30 seconds longer. Critics have often unjustly remarked that Matthias Goerne has a tendency to overact and exaggerate the emotional aspects of certain pieces, so they would certainly have a field day with this one. I don't see it as overdone at all. After all, the poem this song is based on deals with terrifying imagery. The "double" that the protagonist sees in the pale moonlight, is he a fevered hallucination, is he real, or is he the ghost of his own suicide? It's a psychologically horrifying song that begs to be emotionally charged, and Goerne and Eschenbach are just glad to oblige. The piano creates a perfect sombre background to a singer deeply tormented by the vision of his life left behind by lost love. Gripping! Truly gripping!

Goerne is not a rookie or a slouch when it comes to Schubert lieder. He has made many recordings of this music for Hyperion, Decca and Harmonia Mundi, including a previous recording of Schwanengesang with pianist Alfred Brendel for Decca. This new recording is part of an ongoing all-Schubert edition for Harmonia Mundi, of which every title so far comes highly recommended. And my first set of the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas, on vinyl, which I purchased about 40 years ago now, was a recording by pianist Christoph Eschenbach, now turned world class conductor. These two musicians combined bring years of interpretive experience to this music.

Schwanengesang was Schubert's final song cycle, so to include his final piano work, the Piano Sonata in B-flat major, D.960 on the same disc is very fitting. It is given the same autumnal, heartfelt interpretation as the songs. It is strange how despite the fact that Schubert died at the age of 31, this last sonata has an air of valediction to it. The wonderful slow movement in particular, where Schubert seems to have discovered and unlocked the secrets of harmonic relationships, and luxuriates in them, is again deeply felt here. Eschenbach lingers on it an average of around 4 to 5 minutes more than most recordings I know, at a slow 13:24. At this rate, the harmonic suspense is breathless, and leads to a sublime ending. Schubert fans take note, this is a recording that is not only heard, it's experienced.

Jean-Yves Duperron - April 2012