Lieder (Ameling, Baldwin)
Schubert: Lieder. Elly Ameling (soprano), Dalton Baldwin (piano). Philips
This record, to judge by the cover and the sleeve-notes, seems designed to suggest a series of character-studies in song. Gretchen and Ellen are about to step singing from the pages of Goethe or Scott, spinning-wheel or harp at the ready. The piano is to set the scene while the voice enacts it. But I felt that the right stage was never quite reached. Take, for example, D367, which despite its comparative obscurity is given star billing. In this pathetic little ballad, Gretchen tells a tale of faithfulness unto death, far away and long ago in remote Thule. A truly dramatic interpretation would surely seek to convey the ironic contrast of her own fears and fate. But on the contrary, the necessary tautness is if anything slackened; in particular the entirely gratuitous downward transposition seems to study the singer's comfort more than Gretchen's character. In general, the easy style rarely suits the difficult form; much inner tension can be lost through slight inattention. Thus in D837 the long unbroken melodies are typical Schubertian images of the long unbroken slumbers described in the poem. The snatched breaths (bar 24 etc.) does not merely mar the line; it misses the point, three times. In the Faust Cathedral Scene, D126, Meinard Kraak as the Evil Spirit makes a dramatic Geist appearance, and the ominously intoning choir is accompanied by a specially imported organ. Nothing is spared, not even textual authenticity, to bring the scene to vivid life; only Gretchen herself lacks presence.
Of course the lyric approach may reasonably be rated acceptable, or even preferable, by some Schubertians; and on any assessment there is lavish compensation. Dalton Baldwin's unobtrusive excellence contributes its own distinct eloquence, as in the perfectly struck bell-notes of D828, which also speak for the generally good balance and sound quality. In most of these songs, moreover, the piano part is especially designed to enhance the vocal expressiveness, as in Ellen's harp or horn accompaniments or Suleika's breeze and bird imagery. Thus buoyed and sustained, the singing very often takes wing and soars delightfully; but I feel that it remains too effortless to achieve the highest flights of which it is capable.
© gramophone, Apr. 1978 (p. 1761)