Carl Loewe is not terribly well known to British audiences and yet his songs and ballads are a staple part of the German song repertoire and have been recorded with distinction by the likes of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Kurt Moll, Gerald Finley and, here, by the recently retired German bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff.
A contemporary of Schubert, Loewe is known almost exclusively for his strophic ballads, he rarely touches the greatness of, say, Schubert, but his songs are unfailingly melodic, gripping and, with his capacity for vivid expression and Romantic grotesquery, a gift for a singer with exceptional dramatic and interpretive gifts.
Such a performer was Thomas Quasthoff, who not only had a beautifully produced nut-brown bass-baritone voice, but commanded astonishing histrionic and communicative gifts; all the more remarkable when you consider that his appearances on the operatic stage were rare indeed. He invests even the most ordinary songs with such keen intelligence and dramatic insight and impetus that all of the tracks here come across as winners. I fear that I am being more than a little unfair to Loewe; there are some very good songs here and I am particularly fond of "Herr Olaf", "Tom der Reimer" (a version of which I recall being sung by Steeleye Span!) and "Die wandelnde Glocke", which is absolutely charming. Loewe's version of Goethe's "Erlkönig", needless to say, doesn't quite pass muster when compared to Schubert's masterpiece, but it is very entertaining in its own right.
The excellent recording was made in 1989 and the resourceful accompanist, who has some especially rewarding piano music to play, is Norman Shettler. A further reason to buy this disc is that it is now available at a bargain price.