A Schubert Evening (Janet Baker, Gerald Moore)

Schubert: Lieder; Janet Baker, Gerald Moore (HMV)

The Musical Times, Dec. 1971 (p. 1180)

    The discs average 13 songs each; possibly the tiniest two dozen on record. Their substance is fresh, warm and sustaining, but largely unleavened; and their delivery is not always assured. There is a modest selection of roles, from six Goethe girls (Gretchen, Mignon, etc) to one of Scott's lasses (Ellen), with half a dozen assorted maidens.

    Given so thick a wodge of sweet solemn serious songs, at tempos ranging from langsam to nicht zu langsam, the Schubert Evening does sometimes seem to be passing rather slowly. The performances from both singer and pianist are so effective and accomplished that it will seem graceless to concentrate on the few other respects in which they arguably tall short of perfection. But lieder-interpretation is distinguished, if at all, by shades of meaning; so there is always a risk of grasping the substance and missing the shadow. One may then miss the illumination also. Why, for example, should Suleika I suddenly go dim. twice on the last page? Surely the whole verbal and vocal phrase is the emotive unit here, not just the single word “geben”? And if the Peters edition must be used, with the hazards pointed out by Julian Armitage-Smith in his letter in this issue (p.1171), then why overlook its scholarly notes (Über Vorschlage by Max Friedlander) while observing its wrong ones? Thus in the Seidl Wiegenlied the appoggiaturas do not receive the required reading; nor, in my book, are the unwritten rits. right – i.e. in bar 42 and what would have been bar 120 were it not for the omission of a whole strophe, perhaps on the ground that a lullaby ought not to be too soporific.

    Of course, not everyone will see any need to endorse (in whatever sense) the occasional prosaic licence. Either way, the whole record should be taken into account ; and in general the poetry of the songs is safely and smoothly conveyed (as in the Lady of the Lake lyrics, which emerge in admirable conformity with Scott's rather demanding specifications about melting voice, mellow notes, and angelic tones). The result is first-class, and almost challenges comparison with the Fischer-Dieskau/Moore Schubert sets. But they got their terms impeccably right; and only thus can one expect to compete in European markets.

    The notes and translations are generally very presentable, though Claudius is surely not to be grouped with Bruchmann either as a minor poet or a contemporary; and what Suleika II envies is not the wind's “vaporous movement”, which may not sound all that enviable, but its dewy pinions.