It’s been a while since I last reviewed any of the Hyperion Schubert Edition – in fact, so long, that I realised I managed to review volume 2 twice and give it two different scores. Anyway, you can read my reviewed for volume 1 here and volume 2 here and here. The short version for those who haven’t heard of this series before – English pianist Graham Johnson decided to record all of the 600+ songs of Franz Schubert for piano and voice. For every volume of this set of the complete songs, he signed up a different singer and picked a mix of famous and not-so-famous songs for them to sing. Then he would complete each volume by writing some of the most brilliant liner notes ever written, telling you everything you ever wanted to know about even the most obscure of songs.

But are the songs any good? Well, I would say that so far, volume 3 with Ann Murray is my absolute favourite. Ann is an alto with a beautiful control of long lines – she can hold a note without it becoming overpowering or irritating. If was to list three songs that you absolutely must listen to off the CD (and I believe the Hyperion label now allows you to buy individual tracks), I’d recommend An die Freunde (a moving song about a poet wanting to die with a beautiful change from minor to major in the middle), Der Zwerg (a creepily effective Gothic song about a dwarf that murders a queen) and the best of the lot would be Viola (about an anthropomorphic violet that wakes earlier than any of the other spring flowers and then dies sad and alone before the other flowers find her – it’s only about flowers, but the music is so sad and delicate that you can’t help feeling sorry for the flower.)

5 out of 5.

Volume 4 is especially relevant to being reviewed this week, because the singer for this volume, tenor Philip Langridge, sadly passed away of cancer just last week. I always find tenors a bit of a gamble – sometimes they sound like there’s too much strain in their voice or they’re loud and overpowering. The main thing I wasn’t immediately bowled over by with Langridge’s voice is that at the time of the  recording (either late 80s or early 90s), it sounded a bit old. But very quickly you realise that he has a great grasp of how to bring drama and meaning to every word. And Graham Johnson gives him a huge variety of songs to work with.

They range from the majestic and beautiful Auf der Riesenkoppe (On the Giant Peak) a patriotic song where the singer takes us up the side of the mountain, surveys the Austrian countryside and sings the praises of his native land. On the other end of the scale is the Epistle to Josef von Spaun, a friend of Schubert’s who’d moved away and hadn’t written to his friends in a long while. So to rile him up, Schubert composed the music for a letter to Spaun telling him what a barbarian and downright rotten friend he was. It’s done in mock Italian opera style, complete with ear-splitting high notes and mock drama. It’s the kind of song you wouldn’t expect to hear on a normal compilation of songs of Schubert, but that is the wonder of hearing the complete Schubert songs.

4 out of 5.

Am very much looking forward to volume 5, which I hope to start on soon.

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