CD Review: A satisfying loll in the languors of Franz Schubert’s final compositions

Schubert, Schwanengesang & Sonata D.960 (Harmonia Mundi)

Volume 6 of German baritone Matthias Goerne’s remarkable repeat journey through the Lieder of Franz Schubert has arrived at the 14 songs assembled after the composer’s death in 1828, and named Schwanengesang (Swan Song).

Based on poems by Ludwig Rellstab, Henrich heine and, for the final setting, Die Taubenpost (Carrier-Pigeon Mail), Johann Gabriel Seidl, Schwanengesang is, instead, a sampler of Schubert’s remarkably varied and sensitive skills in marrying mood, text and music.

Goerne and his accompanist, conductor-pianist Christoph Eschenbach so much Schubert’s equal in sensitivity and expression that each Lied becomes an exquisite little story. There are hours of insights and pleasures contained in each track of this disc.

There’s even more here.

On a second CD, Eschenbach has recorded his own, very unusual take on Schubert’s great B-flat Major Sonata, D.960, published well after the composer’s death.

The conductor’s interpretation is shockingly slow in the first two movements. I thought Toronto pianist Boris Zarankin’s new album of Schubert piano sonatas was startling, but he is Road Runner when compared to Eschenbach’s quasi-stasis.

Eschenbach spends 21 minutes on the first movement alone, turning it from Schubert’s indicated “Molto moderato,” into a “Sempre adagio” — while Zarankin gets the job done in 17 minutes, and the typical interpretation takes about 15 minutes.

The second movement is positively static.

This should be a recipe for dullness, but Eschenbach’s limpid playing and incredible attention to detail, combined with a warm, intimate sound from the German recording studio make for some compelling listening. (He first recorded the sonata in the mid-1970s, in a crisp, forward style that, now, sounds like the work of a completely different artist.)

Check out the audio samples at the Harmonia Mundi website.

Here is Goerne in recital with Alfred Brendel, singing one of the Rellstab settings, In der Ferne (Far Away), followed by an interesting compilation of very different Schubert sonata interpreters Alex Ross posted on his blog last week, in response to Mitsuko Uchida’s recital at Carnegie Hall:

John Terauds


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