Singing Lieder is about telling a story. Yes, there are moments for vocal grandstanding, but the arena is intimate and, more often than not, imaginary. Recordings provide a great mouthpiece for the genre. Communicated through an illusory space, in our ears, in our front room, we privately reenact its dramas as they are told to us. What is so extraordinary about Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber's latest disc is its appreciation of that confidence and its trust in the material's ability to speak on its own terms.
Gerhaher is a resolutely unobtrusive singer. Occasionally, you think that he'll almost stop and return to speech, so immediate is his performance. Taking his lead from Schoenberg's epigrammatic Schoenberg's Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, each song forms one in a series of emotional postcards. But, having lulled the listener into that false sense of security - hushed, private, even somnolescent - Gerhaher takes a turn for the violent, make even more of an impact.
In contrast, Gerhaher and his accompanist Gerold Huber are rather detached in Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte, though it is never cold. Suspensions and repeated phrases speak of a private significance, whereas 'Adelaide', placed as an encore at the end of the disc, finds voice in contrasting lyricism.
Such internalisation doesn't quite work in Berg's Fünf Orchesterlieder nach Ansichtskartentexten von Peter Altenberg. While the acoustic is adjusted to sound less immediate, you miss the wild contrast between Berg's orchestrations and these otherwise pithy vocal utterances. But, as with every song on this highly engaging disc, Gerhaher and Huber maintain great poise, as if their questions were spoken directly to you.