Mirjams Sieggesang D942; Gesang der Geister über dem Wassern D714; Nachtgesang im Walde D913

Schubert: Mirjams Sieggesang d942; Gesang der Geister über dem Wassern d714; Nachtgesang im Walde d913. Buckel/Lohmeyer/South German Madrigal Choir and Instrumental Soloists/Gönnenwein (Turnabout)



In the last year of his life, the mortally sick Schubert sometimes doubted whether he still belonged to this world. His music too under­went an identity crisis. In 1828 he not only turned to hut practically turned into Haydn, Beethoven and others, even Rossini. In d942, a Grillparzer setting on the theme of Israel out of Egypt (apt topic for Turnabout), we predictably hear Schubert disguised as Handel. This performance well conveys the thinness of the disguise; soprano solo, piano, chorus and recording alike too often sound tinny and insubstantial. But the music itself, though perhaps more commissioned than committed, has marvellous moments; and some are compellingly rendered here. The chorus divides like the Red Sea, whose towering walls become aquarium windows whence fish gaze in goggle-eyed amazement at the dry-shod Israelites. The mysterious murmurings and the watery tremolandos vividly evoke the scene; so do the similarly ominous antiphonal exchanges heralding the storm as Jehovah rides Wotan-like in pursuit of Pharaoh. The composer's mind had evidently been brooding on Exodus; the story is engraved in quaint motivic writing, making a Rosetta stone of musical equivalence which must fascinate all Schubertians. The readings might have become even clearer in the contemplated orchestral arrangement. Something of its potential power and mastery can he heard in the earlier Gesang der Geister d714 for eight-part male chorus and lower strings, even as performed here, in a style which sounds anything but ethereal. With d913, for four-part male chorus and four horns, we are back with late Schubert but in propria persona, at ease among his own circle of friendly voices and domestic music-making. In this vein the South German Madrigal Choir too sounds more at home, and their relaxed account of this affable work is easily the most successful of these three choral Gesänge.        


The Musical Times, Feb. 1980 (p. 106) © the estate of eric sams