Georg Nigl (baritone)
Olga Pashchenko (piano, fortepiano)
rec. 2022, Beethoven-Haus, Bonn, Germany
Sung texts with French and English translations enclosed
Reviewed as download
Alpha Classics 934 [83]

The singer as storyteller is one important quality in the armoury of a successful interpreter of art songs, and on the present disc Georg Nigl and his accompanist Olga Pashchenko have more or less cultivated this aspect of the lieder repertoire in a programme of songs by Schubert, Loewe, Schumann and Hugo Wolf, thus covering most of the 19th century. They have also introduced an historical aspect, insofar as they have chosen keyboard instruments contemporary to the music: a Steinway & Sons Concert Grand from 1875 and a copy of a Conrad Graf fortepiano from 1826, made by Christoph Kern in 2019. Kern was also the piano technician for this instrument for this recording. But, as Nigl says in his foreword: “the aim was not to produce a historicising interpretation with the aid of period keyboards, but above all to present the listener with sounds that are – unjustly, I think – unknown to most of us. And I must admit that the special sounds of the instruments wasn’t the first thing that struck me when I listened to the recording – even though I enjoyed the playing of Olga Pashchenko very much – but the masterly singing and storytelling of Georg Nigl and the interplay between the two musicians.

In his early youth Schubert composed some long and winding ballads that hardly can be counted among his masterpieces, but Viola, written in 1823 to a text by perhaps his closest friend,  Franz von Schober, is something different. It opens mysteriously with a sparse intro, hesitantly, solitary notes, like drops of water, and the first verse is set to a marvellously beautiful melody, which returns, with different accompaniments, as verses 5, 14 and 19. In other words the whole 15-minute-long ballad is a rondo, skilfully knit together to a masterpiece that never seems overlong. The main reason for that – besides Schubert’s melodic and dramatic inventiveness – is Georg Nigl’s deeply involved storytelling, his warmth of expression, his superb enunciation and – again – his involvement. He is the kind of narrator that never caresses a phrase unduly or makes an artful pause to show his technical brilliance. He is there in the service of the listener to clarify what the story is about.  And that is his hallmark throughout the programme. The other Schubert song, Der Vater mit dem Kind, composed in January 1827, less than two years before his demise, is interpreted with the utmost sensitivity, the utmost warmth, almost whispered. There is such humanity here, and I wonder why it is sung so rarely. I can’t remember ever hearing at a live recital.

Carl Loewe was one year older than Schubert and survived him by more than 40 years. He became a well-known musical profile in his native Germany and also toured abroad, singing his own songs and accompanying himself on the piano. He composed in most genres, but today he is remembered  practically exclusively for his songs. The only other work I’ve come across is his Passion Oratorio, which I reviewed more than 15 years ago. His songs – he wrote more than 400 – are heard from time to time and have been recorded. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau made several LPs and around the turn of the millennium cpo issued all of them on 21 CDs.  Erlkönig, one of his earliest compositions, was written a couple of years after Schubert’s. I don’t believe Loewe was familiar with Schubert’s work and the similarities are more dependent on the text. Both settings catch the ghostly situation to perfection. A good interpreter must be able to individualise the characters, and Nigl is masterly in that respect. The following five songs are also sensitively sung: a charmingly moralizing Die wandelnde Glocke, a fun Graf Eberstein and ditto Hinkende Jamben, a sweet and inward Süsses Begräbnis sung in beautiful pianissimo and a hair-raising Der Zauberlehrling, Goethe’s ballad which is better-known in Paul Dukas’ orchestral version.

Robert Schumann’s five songs Op. 40 are less frequently heard than Dichterliebe and the two Liederkreise from that fabulous Liederjahr 1840, but are moving in their own right. The first four are settings of poems by H. C. Andersen , translated from Danish by Adelbert von Chamisso and Georg Nigl. The fifth is an original poem by Chamisso. Nigl explains in the liner notes his intervention: “[Chamisso] clearly did not intend a literal translation into German, and yet in the second song his free version has always seemed to me to deviate too far from the meaning of the Danish original. Since Schumann himself underlaid the songs with both the Danish and the German texts, and the rhythm of the vocal line differs from one version to the other, I have taken the liberty of revising the German of the last strophe of no.2 to bring it closer to Andersen’s poem.” There is both beauty, drama and tragedy here and Der Spielmann is a kind of Dance Macabre.

Back to Loewe for another ghostly journey, Odins Meeres-Ritt, before a handful of Hugo Wolf’s best songs. Wolf openly declared that he admired Loewe, and these four Mörike settings and one by  Goethe do not contradict that statement. Georg Nigl certainly wrings every drop of beauty and drama out of the songs and is truly overwhelming in Der Feuerreiter, once famously recorded in the 78 rpm era by the great Danish tenor Helge Rosvaenge. Nigl is however no less formidable.

As a suitable appendix he once more returns to Loewe and a fine reading of Herr Oluf. Here, as well as throughout this long recital, he proves his capacity as a magnificent storyteller. Don’t miss this disc!

Göran Forsling

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Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)
1. Viola (1823) [15:11]
2. Der Vater mit dem Kind (1827) [5:19]
Carl Loewe (1796 – 1869)
3. Erlkönig (1817/18) [3:49]
4. Die wandelnde Glocke (1832) [1:59]
4. Graf Eberstein (1826) [4:01]
6. Hinkende Jamben (1837) [1:01]
7. Süsses Begräbnis (1837) [4:02]
8. Der Zauberlehrling (1832) [4:16]
Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856)
Fünf Lieder für eine Singstimme und Klavier (1840)
9. I. Märzveilchen [1:48]
10. II. Muttertraum [3:09]
11. III. Der Soldat [2:58]
12. IV. Der Spielmann [3:20]
13. V. Verratene Liebe [1:06]
Carl Loewe
14. Odins Meeres-Ritt oder der Schmied auf Helgoland (1851) [5:27]
Hugo Wolf (1860 – 1903)
15. Die Geister am Mummelsee (1888) [4:48]
16. Zitronenfalter im April (1888) [2:31]
17. Auf ein altes Bild (1889) [3:00]
18. Der Rattenfänger (1890) [3:11]
19. Der Feuerreiter (1890) [5:46]
Carl Loewe
20. Herr Oluf (1821) [6:21]