In this age of digital music, I’m still a fan of CDs. I’m not opposed to MP3s, and the like. Certainly, iTunes is a great way of getting hold of a song from an album where you really only like one or two songs.
But, when it comes to buying classical music, I still love the CD. And this CD series would be a classic example of why. I’ve done an earlier review of Volume 1 in the series, but as a brief recap:
In the early 80s, the pianist Graham Johnson persuaded the Hyperion record label to let him release a complete collection of all the songs ever written by the composer, Franz Schubert. Considering that Schubert wrote over 600 songs in his short life (he died in his 30s), it was an immense recording project and took 37 CDs. I’m slowly collecting and listening to them.
Graham is the constant link in all of these CDs, and he accompanies all the songs, but he picks a different singer for each album. In this case, he picked the baritone, Stephen Varcoe.
Varcoe is not particularly famous outside of England (and even there, he may not be completely well-known), but he has a very pleasant baritone voice, which makes these songs very easy to listen to. (No unpleasant operatic belting here.)
Graham tends to group songs by theme, and in this second volume, he has picked a group of songs all themed around the idea of water. (Not, however, “The Trout” which would probably be the most famous Schubert song of all – or would that be “The Erl-King”? Hard to pick . . .)
As with all these volumes, because it is a complete set, you get some well-known songs and some really obscure ones, all side by side. What makes them interesting is the liner notes. Graham goes to town, writing several paragraphs for each song in the booklet, explaining what he’s doing in the piano, what the singer is doing with his voice, what Schubert is doing in the music, the background to the song, who the lyricist was, what’s going on in the music, etc. His level of knowlege is immense and his enthusiasm is infectious.
Also, there are interesting experiments. For instance, the first two tracks contain the same song lyrics set to different melodies. Schubert came back later in life and tried his hand at the same song. So by having them on the same CD, you get to hear how varying the accompaniment can change the whole tone of a song.
But probably the real main piece on this CD is a song that runs for half an hour that tells the legend off a young man that dives off a cliff into a swirling maelstrom to rescue a cup so that he can win the hand of the king’s daughter. It’s quite dramatic, with the piano all the time providing the dramatic accompaniment (like a soundtrack) to the whole thing.
All in all, a good album of lieder and it certainly made me happy to buy future albums in this series. Which I will hopefully get to review in due course.
4 out of 5.