This third installment in Christopher Maltman's Schubert recitals reminds me of how much I admired the first two, devoted to Die Schoene Mullerin and Winterreise. All were delivered at the acoustically superior Wigmore Hall in London; this program dates to April 2010. On every CD Maltman is in top form, a sensitive musician who uses his light, tenorish baritone to great effect. My only reservations with the previous two installments had to do with the accompanist. We get Graham Johnson once more, a devoted scholar of Schubert and an estimable figure in the UK. But Johnson has struck me as a cautious and sometimes routine accompanist. I wish it were otherwise.
Schwanengesang, as it well known, isn't a true song cycle but a posthumous collection of Schubert's last compositions assembled and named by his publisher. It brings its own unique challenges. There is a wide range of emotion and vocal difficulty. A singer who can manage the tenderness of Standcehn and the galloping lightness of Die Taubenpost isn't necessarily going to encompass the restless heartsick quality of Kriegers Ahnung or the powerful anguish of Der Atlas. by comparison, Schone Mullerin and Winterreise are more consistent; they submit to a single style from the singer.
With that in mind, Maltman is moving and convincing in very song, while Johnson is a shade too monochrome. I'm addressing dedicated lieder fanciers; there's no doubt that the whole recital is on a high level. But if the pianist were not so restrained, one feels that the singer could let himself go. A masterpiece like Fruhlings Sensucht becomes so much greater if its almost manic mood swings come with unbridled spontaneity. There is a mismatch in Standchen, Schubert's most beloved melody, between the clipped, matter-of-fact accompaniment and Maltlman's very personal, flowing delivery. At other moments the difficulty of presenting 18 songs without pause exposes some quavery patches vocally.
Standing back a bit, these minor complaints mean little. In the last decade I've come across two inspiring recordings of Schwanengesang - one from German tenor Werner Guera and this one. It affords a lovely experience in an hour of sublime music.