The budget-priced Naxos label is in the middle of recording the complete songs of Franz Schubert. Before undertaking this project, Naxos had released two CDs of Schubert lieder, including this 1996 release by soprano Lynda Russell and pianist Peter Hill. It is a shame that this fine recital has not received more attention, but fortunately it remains available in the Naxos catalogue. Russell, an English soprano, made a number of recordings in the 1990s and continues to be an active performer of opera and oratorio. This was the only recording I was able to find of Russell singing art songs. Peter Hill is an excellent pianist who specializes in modern music. I have enjoyed his recording on Naxos of the music of Berg, Schoenberg, and Webern.
I was inspired to hear Schubert lieder from my reading of a challenging new book about Schubert, "Franz Schubert and the Rose Cross Mystery" by Frank Ruppert which explores the religious and philosophical bases of Schubert's music. But it requires little urging to return to Schubert's songs. They bring joy and life to my heart. I was pleased to listen again to this CD which has been in my collection for several years.
The 18 tracks on this collection include Schubert's late extended song "The Shepherd on the Rock" which includes an obligato part for the clarinet, accompanying the singing of the shepherd. This work, singing of lost love, wandering and hope, is beautifully performed by the three artists especially in the climactic passage for the clarinet at the end.
The collection features several of Schubert's settings of Goethe. The set opens with "Ganymede" D. 544, in which Schubert captures a young boy's wanderings before he is carried off by an infatuated Zeus. Russell and Hill collaborate intimately in Schubert's first masterwork of song, the smoldering "Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel", a text from Goethe's Faust, which the young composer set at the age of 17. Other Goethe songs in this collection include the romantic "To the Distant One" D. 765, the two late "Suleika" lieder, D. 717 and D. 720, which were probably written by Goethe's lover, and one of Schubert's "Mignon" settings from Goethe's novel, William Meister, D. 877.
Schubert set many poems by his friend Joyann Mayrhofer, which are characterized by their obscure lyrics and by the repressed sexual passion that Schubert captures in his music. Two of Schubert's finest settings of Mayrhofer, "Evening Star" D. 806 and the enigmatic "Nachtviolen", D. 752, are included here.
Russell and Hill also collaborate on songs that display Schubert's spontaneous and flowing melodies. These works include the famous lullaby, "Wiegenlied" D. 498, the irresistable "In Spring" D. 882, and "The Trout" D. 550 which Schubert used as the theme for his "Trout" Quintet.
There are many anthologies of Schubert songs, including CDs at budget prices, that will serve as an excellent introduction to this music. The new listener will not go wrong with this disk. Those who love Schubert and collect recordings of his lieder will also enjoy this little-heralded recording. Texts and translations of the songs, an increasing rarity in budget recordings, are included.