Franz Schubert Heliopolis (feat. piano: Ingo Metzmacher; bar: Matthias Goerne) Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

A dark, yearning poetry that’s discreetly powerful and wholly persuasive.

Michael Quinn 2009

Matthias Goerne’s Schubert song series goes from strength to strength with this fourth volume largely focusing on songs about the mythic figures and legends of ancient Greece.

Greek antiquity prompted a significant number of songs from Schubert, ranking second only in number to his settings of texts by Goethe. Appropriately enough for such a larger-than-life folklore, ballads are conspicuously absent among the Grecian songs, their tales of heroic valour, poetic nostalgia and love prompting the kind of forlorn, dark-hued introspection that is the signature element of the composer’s Lieder.

But they also prompt moments of elemental drama and passages of high passion, albeit always meticulously controlled if, occasionally, a touch too manicured. They draw from Goerne performances of a precisely pitched theatricality that make much of the immediacy of the moment. The two selections from Heliopolis telescope intimate, personal dramas and larger public spectacle to bewitching effect, Goerne’s lightly burnished baritone liquescently surging and seething against the pointed accompaniment of Ingo Metzmacher.

Goerne, who describes Schubert as “the starting point of absolutely everything” in the accompanying 17-minute DVD film on the making of the disc, makes much of the music’s subterranean ebb and flow between ecstasy and despair, alternately caressing and biting deep into the texts for added effect.

Schiller’s wistful eulogy to Die Götter Griechenlands finds him adroitly navigating the music’s shifting tonal ambiguities to set the scene for what follows. Echoes of the longed for but now irretrievably lost imbue even the most effusive sentiments on display, the driving recitative and muscular melody of An die Leier a twilit view of fading history, the classical fervour of Fragment aus dem Aischylos lent a becoming romantic gloss.

Emotional ballast is provided by the wistful expression of homesickness, Das Heimweh, the beguilingly still and hushed Wandrers Nachtlied (in which Schubert rises sublimely to the concentrated atmosphere of Goethe’s poem), Frühlingsglaube with its charming modal simplicity, and the brittle leavetaking of the familiar Abschied.

Throughout, Goerne and Metzmacher suffuse these songs with a dark, yearning poetry to discreetly powerful and wholly persuasive effect. 

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