Every eighteen months or so we receive another installment in Matthias Goerne's ongoing Schubert cycle. One has to applaud any record label, particularly in these times, for keeping the faith in a venture that is unlikely to bring them riches. Fischer-Dieskau elevated the visibility of lieder singing, but at the same time he quashed competitors with his unending stream of recordings that covered five decades. I'd say that Goerne and Thomas Hampson have been the most successful of F-D's baritone successors. Since Hampson has omitted Schubert form his discography (with small exceptions), Goerne is free to pursue his grand dream.
There's a plus and minus to Goerne's honeyed voice. He's gorgeous in a softly lyrical song like "Nacht und Traume," which gives this album its theme of night and dreams. The tone is so sweet that it's hard to credit that the singer, now 43, isn't much younger. If anything his ability to spin a mesmerizing melodic line has only grown. But the drawback is a lack of dramatic punch and a certain sameness of tone. Goerne compensates with a pressing intensity of tone that his fans cling to, but frankly, this gets lugubrious and overbearing after a while. What keeps me from enjoying more than six songs in a row is that Goerne never smiles, and Schubert without joy isn't completely Schubert. Still, every lieder singer has detractions, and over the years I've come to appreciate Goerne more.
One mark of distinction in this cycle is the use of different pianists for each installment. In this instance Goerne appears with Alexander Schmalcz, whose chief career has been as accompanist. From what I can father, the two have been associated since at least 2004, and undoubtedly Schmalcz knows how to flow along with a singer, even though he's not the most original or varied of players. Expressive rubato is minimal, and his tone hovers around mezzo forte too much.
So, the sum is a fascinating mixture of rare and familiar songs done with great skill and authority. Whatever my quibbles about Goerne's artistry, that he is an artist is never in doubt.