Schubert / Brahms / Silcher / Zilcher: Songs - Prégardien / Prégardien / Gees

Schubert / Brahms / Silcher / Zilcher: Songs - Prégardien / Prégardien / Gees

Challenge Classics  CC 72645

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal

Schubert: Erlkönig, D 328; Wanderers Nachtlied, D 768; Zum Rundtanz, D 983 No. 3; Die Nacht, D 983 No.4; Im Abendrot, D 799; Fischers Liebesglück, D 933; Auf dem Wasser zu singen, D 774; Der Zwerg, D 771; Meeres Stille, D 216; Widerspruch, D 865; Licht und Liebe, D 352; Nacht und Träume, D 827
Brahms: Die Sonne scheint nicht mehr; In stiller Nacht; Erlaube mir, feins Mädchen; Da unten im Tale
Silcher: Frisch gesungen; Ännchen von Tharau; O wie herbe ist das Scheiden; Loreley
Zilcher: Fünf Duette für zwei Singstimmen und zwei Mundharmonikas in C, Op. 109
Schumann: Nachtleid, Op. 96 No. 1
Anon.: Weißt du, wieviel Sternlein stehen?
Bresgen: O du stille Zeit

Christoph & Julian Prégardien, tenor
Michael Gees, piano
Fabienne Waga & Patricia Messner, mouth organ

The conditions under which Schubert’s art of the song developed into a kaleidoscopically incandescent spectrum that crossed over genres and the institutionally set, historical boundaries disappear today as a rule under the pedestal that the late nineteenth century began to erect for the composer. The traces of improvisational practice were increasingly lost within a music culture that stylised the printed manuscript into a quasi sacred object. A particularly successful way of leading back to a fundamental impetus in Schubert’s art of the song is through an approach towards the songs that takes the moment of spontaneous performance seriously as a communicative act, without denying the work character of Schubert’s music. The idea of ‘one’ universal human voice seems to materialise with particular intensity in the commingling of two voices of similar timbre, which can permanently interchange and double their identity. Based on our knowledge for instance of the Schubertiade reminiscences of 1868, remembered and noted down by Moritz von Schwind, can we not imagine that the ‘Schubert singers’ Johann Michael Vogl and Karl von Schönstein might indeed have sung alternately (or even in unison)?

Christoph Prégardien:
When a second part suddenly crops up in a Schubert song, many people say of course: are we allowed to do this to Schubert? Even I had to be persuaded at first to consider the improvisational element, however, our approach to adopting it didn’t happen arbitrarily, but in the context of our awareness of music-making in past centuries.

Michael Gees:
You can formulate reasons that aren’t based on historical knowledge but ensue from the music itself. "Nacht und Träume” (Night and Dreams), for example – you listen to this music, you hear that it bears a potential within: the potential of starting out from the rather simple structure and being able to ramify practically into endlessness. This opens up spaces in which you can go on fantasising without bounds. In this context our versions are not actually “contrived”, but formed by “eavesdropping” on the music itself to a certain degree. If I hear it, I hear something like another “I”, another self, a corresponding multi-voice being.

Julian Prégardien:
In our arrangements we first and foremost wanted an encounter with the prodigious complexity of Schubert’s oeuvre in lied and to show that boundaries overlap! Schubert composed the song “Widerspruch” (Contradiction) in two versions in any case – namely the solo version and as an ensemble lied – and we are now in a way adding a third. With “Licht und Liebe” (Light and Love) we have also included an original composition for two voices, as well as dramatic ballads, convivial vocal ensembles and elegiacally meditative solo songs which we have “heard” anew and arranged in various ways.

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Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - December 11, 2014

Christoph Prégardien and Challenger Classics have been major suppliers of superb Lieder recordings in SA-CD, and recently Julian Prégardien joined the family, as it were, with his own highly rated solo song disc for Myriosmusik (Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte - Prégardien / Schnackertz). It was inevitable that father and son would make recordings together, and here we have a remarkable programme which explores the possibilities of duets in Lieder.

Netherlands accompanying pianist Michael Gees joins the two singers; he has worked with both of them for some time, and he has a role in this project as an arranger as well as instrumentalist. He used a full-sized concert grand piano which is also from the Netherlands, an HHD-275R by Henk Hupkes. The velvety timbre of this instrument struck me immediately as a wonderful supporting medium for vocals, better than the Steinway for this purpose in my opinion. Gees also uses it to work even more magic with his sensitive projections of the solo preludes and interludes so common in Lieder.

Gees himself has a reputation for devising programmes which go beyond present-day traditions. The Prégardiens and he have looked into the Lieder archives and come up with some existing duet songs, rarely performed outside Germany. Hermann Zilcher (1881-1949) wrote 'Five duets for two singers and two harmonicas in C, Op.109'. Fabienne Waga and Patricia Messner are the harmonica experts, both coming from Trossingen, a small town regarded as the stronghold of the harmonica. Both of them have been successful at the World Harmonica Festival (yes, there is such an annual event). Zilcher's songs mostly follow the usual style of the Lied, except for the presence of the harmonicas, for which he writes sparingly, adding atmosphere and colour to the poetry. Christoph and Julian are whole-hearted in their interpretations, and together with their unusual accompanists make a good case for revitalising Zilcher's work.

Another aspect of Zilcher's love of lieder was his arrangement of existing songs with an extra part, and
the Prégardiens have selected four songs by Brahms, arranged by Zilcher as duets. These are quite well-known songs, but they are enriched in a very satisfying way.

For the rest of the programme, Gees and the Prégardiens have found lieder which to them immediately suggested that an extra voice would give a lift to the poetry and its moods. Philipp Friedrich Silcher (1789 – 1860) was an early pioneer of the Lieder form, and he was both a collector and arranger of folk music. The four chosen Lieder (including Lorelei from Heine's poem) were arranged for duet by Julian and Gees; carefully retaining Silcher's rather simple style by using variables such as unison, octave and each tenor singing alternate verses. The result is an eye-opener, the songs presenting attractive lyrical melodies imbued with delight and grace, magnified by the duet.

Next on the tracks come twelve Schubert Lieder, some arranged by Julian and Gees, others by Gees or just Julian. In the booklet, the players attempt a sort of apologia ifor daring to alter some of the works by one of the great masters of music. The booklet refers to Schubert's friend Moritz von Schwind's reminiscences of the Schubertiads (Schubert's domestic singing parties). Without mentioning duets directly, although any new songs would be introduced by soloists such as the great Vogl, in the informal atmosphere for which the Lieder were intended, other singers were likely to have joined in.

The most obvious Schubert song for arranging was of course Erl-King, D768. Goethe's ghostly poem inspired Schubert to write a masterpiece, but his solo singers had to sing the dialogue between a father and his son using different characters, which often sounds rather stagy. Having skilfully arranged it as a duet, Julian of course takes the part of the son, while Christoph is the stern father. The most moving moments are when Julian urgently calls "Mein Vater, mein Vater", to which his REAL father replies. The continued rapport of father and son singers leads to an exceptional Erl-King, propelled magnificently by Gees, using his famous emulation of period performance on a modern piano. The roaring waves in the deep bass are done with a speedy articulation rarely achieved by other pianists, so that his ramping of nervous tension has you sitting on the edge of your seat.

Each of the other selected and duet-arranged Schubert songs reveal their dramaturgy in new ways, at the same time enriching their poetic atmospheres. Christof's now deepening and darkening range heading towards baritone melds with the lighter purity of Julian's voice, which sometimes is a golden heroic type, and together they add another dimension to the colours of the Lieder in ways impossible with a soloist. Particularly beautiful are the renderings of songs referring to the beloved peace of Nature, where the slowly interweaving lines and warm harmonies are long-drawn by the Prégardiens' exquisite vocal control.

There is but one Schumann Lied arranged as a duet, Nachtlied (Night Song) Op. 96,1. Another idyll of Nature, this few lines of awe by Goethe, has its last line a poignant warning of universal death - "only wait, soon you will rest as well". Again this song is carried timelessly by the two voices. The penultimate song on the disc is a light-hearted comedy arranged from an anonymous German folk song which teasingly asks "Do you know how many stars there are?" to a rippling piano accompaniment and lilting pair of vocal lines. The final song comes from Italian Cesar Bresgen (1913-1988); 'O thou time of stillness', recounting another view across the mountains, but this one sweetly wishes the world "Good Night". The tenor voices soften to nothing, and appropriately conclude this unmissable recording.

All three of the performers add comments to the booklet essay, which also bears extensive biographies of each of them. Texts are presented with a readable size of font and the German is translated generally very well in English - apart from the line "In the middle of the shimmer of the reflecting waves D" which sounds more like an on-line translation! The usual thick booklet sits with the jewel box in a thin card slip-case, typical for Challenger.

The DSD originated NorthStar recording is impeccable, a Lutheran Church acoustic is controlled to give a subtle ambient halo around the apparently close-miked singers. The 5.1 multichannel mode organises all this and adds further depth to the Henk Hupkes piano bass.

Some Lieder aficionados might find addition of a second voice to beloved Lieder to be heretic, especially in the case of Schubert. But the extraordinary care and understanding of these songs in their creative arrangements and enriched performances is a tribute to the work of the Prégardiens, father and son, together with accompanist and arranger Michael Gees. This album shows that an extra human voice can add extra illumination to what is one of the most human of musical forms. Furthermore, the duets are made by and sung by two of the world's best tenors who are closely related and have a deep musical rapport.

If you want to be convinced that Lieder can offer even greater meaning, listen to this disc. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2014 John Miller and


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