Again, a return to the excellent CD collection of Schubert’s complete songs (or lieder as they’re known in German) on the Hyperion label. For those of you who missed out on the last review (which was right back in the early days of this blog), this is a series of CDs that was the brainchild of English pianist, Graham Johnson. For every CD in the series (and there’s nearly 40 of them, so I’ve got a fair way to go . . .), he would select a singer, and a handful of famous and not-so-famous Schubert songs (not too hard to do, considering there’s over 600 of them) and perform them. I should also mention, that lieder is particularly a song for voice with piano accompaniment. However, “accompaniment” doesn’t really do justice to the music, because the piano plays an integral part in the song. You can’t have one without the other. It’s a perfect partnership.
This particular CD features the baritone, Stephen Varcoe, who is not particularly well-known in Australia, but nonetheless has a perfect voice for this kind of thing. The theme for this album is water, and so there are a variety of songs all to do with various aspects of water. The one conscipuous song that was missing is the ever-famous “The Trout”, but considering that there’s plenty more CDs, I’m sure they’re saving that song for another time and another singer.
But there’s songs about fishermen, songs about boats heading for hell, etc. There’s also one song that has two different tunes (because Schubert would often come back a few years later and write different musical arrangements of the same song). So by getting to hear one version straight after another, you get a real feel for the art of the composer. Finally, capping it all off, is a monstrous half-hour song that tells the story of a king who sets out a challenge for any man who wants to win the hand of his daughter – the prospective suitor has to dive into a dark chasm of stormy water to fetch a goblet that he has thrown down into the depths. Perhaps not the TV generation’s idea of fun, but you can see this being a real hit back in the days of parlour-room entertainment.
And, of course, the real highlight of these CDs is the fantastic liner notes by Graham. In a day and age when liner notes are written by academics for academics and practically require a doctorate in music to decipher, Graham is a breath of fresh air. While a little bit musical, he digs into each song, dissecting it apart in minute detail, so even if it only lasts for two minutes, you have a great understanding of what the piano is doing and what the singer is doing, and why the song is so brilliant. These are great, because together with complete translations for every song, if you’re a newcomer to this type of song, you’ll be able to jump right in, and Graham will show you the ropes. This series is great, and one of those CDs I’ll never chuck out of my collection.
4 1/2 out of 5.