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on 13 December 2009
A totally superb recording of these songs.They are well known, but this performance makes them sound all new and fresh.
I knew before that Bostridge has a great understanding of Schubert. He can make any song to a small drama, a vibrating burst of happiness or a profound wave of serenity. In this recording he is at his best. (Although he has some problems with the German in some of the songs.)
One of the reasons is that Pappano is delivering inspiration in abundance. What he creates at the piano is pure magic. One thing that struck me is that he is using the silence and the rest in the music. He is not chasing the music in front of him, but he follows the natural breath of the music. Of the pianists that use to work together with Bostridge I normally think that Drake is number one, but Pappano is on the same level, no doubt.
This is a must have in any collection!
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A varied compilation of 14 songs that Schubert composed in 1828, during the last summer of his life, "Schwanengesang" was grouped together by an enterprising publisher and has been performed as a unit ever since. It consists of seven settings of poems by Ludwig Relstab (1799 -- 1860), six by Heinrich Heine (1797 -- 1856) and a final poem, generally regarded as Schubert's last song, by Johann Seidel (1804 -- 1875). The songs have a valedictory character as they generally have bittersweet themes of lost love and of sadness. They never fail to refresh the spirit. I returned to the songs in part because I am working with a cellist friend in playing an arrangement of the "Serenade". But it goes deeper than that. This cycle helps me as an antidote to melancholy.

In this recording, the English tenor Ian Bostridge is accompanied by the conductor and pianist Antonio Pappano. There is formidable recorded competition for "Schwanengesang" and most often the set is performed by a lower voice. Bostridge has a light voice which took some getting used to. This is a highly expressive, passionate and romantic performance. Each song is highly characterized, providing great contrast among the many moods captured by the music. The the setting of Relstab's "Abschied", with its energetic "clip-clop" accompaniment in the piano is taken at a fast pace indeed. The more melancholy, slower songs are taken with deliberation. Bostridge's phrasing and articulation are precise and clear, particularly in the short song "Atlas" over its thundering piano accompaniment.

The two most famous songs from this set are the "Serenade" set to Relstab and the "Doppelganger" set to Heine. Bostridge captures the flowing, unsettled character of the lover's quest in the former song together with the echoing lyrical responses of Pappano. "Der Doppelganger" remains an almost modernistic work with the troubled singer seeing himself before the home of the woman who has rejected him. With his tenor voice, Bostridge offers a strongly declamatory performance of this song, with its large angry climaxes over the rumbling minor key chords of the piano. The final song, Seidel's "Taubenpost" with its mixture of questioning whimsy and sadness, brings relief from the difficulties of "Der Doppelganger."

For those new to this music, I offer these brief comments on the remaining songs. Two early Relstab songs, "Love's Message" and "Spring Longing" capture the feel of a rippling brook and of dreams of love. "Abschied", the final Relstab song, tells of a singer leaving his native home, with a lively pace and an undercurrent of sadness. The remaining Relstab settings, "Kriegers Ahung","Aufenhalt" and "In der Ferne" are more tragic in tone.

The Heine settings tend to be more concentrated than the settings of Relstab. In addition to "Der Doppelganger", the settings of "Atlas", "Ihr Bild" and "Die Stadt" and "Am Meer" are songs of wandering, loneliness, and rejection. The mood of these songs is interrupted only briefly by the barcarolle, rolling setting of "Die Fischermadchen". Seidel's poem of the carrier pigeon brings the set and Schubert's song output to a conclusion.

The CD also includes four additional songs, including the early setting of Goethe's "An Schwager Chronos", two settings by Schubert's friend Mayrhofer (1787 -- 1836), "Gehimnis" and "Abschied" and a late setting of another poem titled "Abschied" by Schubert's friend, Franz von Schlecta (1796 -- 1875). All but the Goethe setting were unfamiliar to me. Schubert's over 600 lieder present endless possibility for new discovery.

"Schwanengesang" consists of moving, imperishable songs by a composer who died young. Lovers of Schubert and of art song will want to hear this CD by Bostridge and Pappano. Texts and translations of the songs are included.

Robin Friedman
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