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Loewe was a contemporary of Schubert, and his output of songs and ballads seems to have been on a similarly large scale. He even set Goethe's Erlkoenig, and at one time there was a fashion to prefer his version to Schubert's masterpiece. This prompted a typically supercilious defence of Schubert from Tovey, always one to praise famous men, but I have heard Loewe's setting and I have no difficulty with Tovey's point of view in general.
Erlkoenig is not included in this recital of 17 numbers by a variety of authors. Most are ballads, a type of poetry for which I have had a lifelong weakness. The themes of love and death figure prominently, and I imagine it would be hard to put together any representative selection of ballads in any language where that was not so. Others are various kinds of lyrics, including translations of Byron and a German setting of three verses from St John's gospel. The choice of religious texts is admirably ecumenical, one poem relating to a miracle associated with the Blessed Virgin, another to a miraculous escape by the Prophet and a companion from their pursuers, and I suppose that the sentiment in the ninth item, (one of the Byron translations), could be fairly described as Zionist. I find the selection to be judicious and as well varied as the material permits, my own partiality being strongly for the touching and affecting ballads. The music is simple and attractive throughout. The liner-note (anonymous but pretty obviously a translation from German) is slightly hectoring in the way it tells us what to think, and while I quite agree that Loewe does not deserve neglect I don't perceive him as any serious rival to Schubert either.
I think you would be very surprised if I had much criticism to make of Fischer-Dieskau, and indeed I have none at all. The beautiful voice, the meticulous artistry and the sense of belief and commitment are here as surely as in his renderings of Schubert or Wolf. Hartmut Hoell is a fairly unremarkable accompanist, but this is not music that cries out for Gerald Moore, and I have no problems in that quarter either. The recording does everyone justice, and I recommend this disc warmly to music lovers interested in this attractive byway of German Lied who may balk slightly at becoming involved with it in a more wholesale way.
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