Déjà Review: this review was first published in April 2003 and the recording is still available.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Mayrhofer-Lieder Volume 2
Deutsche Schubert Lied Edition 12
Christiane Iven (mezzo-soprano), Burkhard Kehring (piano)
rec. 2002, Studio 2, Bavarian Radio, Munich, Germany
Naxos 8.554739 [60]

The Hyperion Schubert edition is not the least of reasons why true music lovers will bless the memory of Ted Perry for evermore. And here is Naxos well into its own Schubert edition at a giveaway price!

The aims of the two editions are quite distinct. The Hyperion edition based each disc on a theme – flowers, animals and so forth, or on a particular year of activity. It was masterminded by the pianist Graham Johnson, who also provided the incredibly detailed notes, and his choice of singers gave a certain prevalence to the leading British artists of the day, documenting the high level of lieder-singing to be found in the United Kingdom in the late 20th Century. A number of celebrated German singers were also included.

The Naxos edition is also masterminded by a pianist, Ulrich Eisenlohr, who however does not play on each disc (as in the present case). He has chosen to present a team of German singers, and the German slant of the edition is evident also in the choice to group the songs according to the poet(s) set. Schubert himself had had some such idea in 1816 but, as we know, relatively few of his songs were actually published in his lifetime. It has neatness in its favour and will appeal to students of German poetry. It also carries the slight risk of creating an “encyclopaedia in sound” rather than a series of listener-friendly programmes.

Johann Mayrhofer (1797-1836) was a close friend of Schubert’s for a short period. Schubert set his poetry for the first time in 1814 and from 1818 to 1820 the two actually lived under the same roof. Yet Mayrhofer’s preoccupation with classical imagery and mythology which often contained a thinly veiled political analogy with contemporary Austria is rather far from the sort of subject material Schubert normally preferred, and in time the composer seemed to come round to this view, for his relations with Mayrhofer cooled off after 1820 and he set only a very few poems by Mayrhofer after this date.

We see immediately one of the disadvantages of this system of programme-making when, thanks to an insistence on chronological order, the disc opens with one of Schubert’s less memorable creations, “Am See”; it also contains “Urianiens Flucht” in which for 18-and-a-half minutes Schubert tries his hand at a dramatic cantata for solo voice and piano. Fortunately he keeps breaking into himself but even so it’s a long haul (but, of course, a complete edition has to include it somewhere).

Fortunately the piano introduction to the fourth song on the CD, “Abendlied der Fürstin”, and the heart-easing melody with which the following song, “Sehnsucht”, opens, will rapidly convince the listener that plenty of the Schubert we all know and love is to be found here. Luckily Mayrhofer’s particular preoccupations did not prevent him from also writing the sort of romantic nature poetry that always drew the best out of Schubert. If none of the songs here are among the composer’s most famous, there are several that ought to be. As I write, the “Schaflied” is obstinately reverberating through my head, but “Erlafsee”, “Beim Winde”, “Die Sternennächte” and “Abendstern” are all gems, and the dramatic “Auflösung” makes a terrific ending. At the Naxos price the disc is worth it for these alone.

Especially when sung (and played) as well as they are here. Christiane Iven has a rich mezzo timbre, even throughout the range and with a good feeling for how to transmit the words without breaking the musical line. I could leave it like that, but a few comparisons seem called for. When there are notable differences between her competitors (often there are not), Iven is the more upfront, impulsive interpreter. In “Iphigenia”, Janet Baker and Gerald Moore (EMI) are slower, tiptoeing around in half-tones. It’s very magical in its hushed way, but it is possible to feel that Schubert responded to the classical image with a Cherubini-like operatic scena. This is how Iven interprets it and I must say it makes more sense.

Other cases are less clear-cut. Dame Janet belonged to the generation of lieder singers under the thrall of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who established a very detailed approach to the text. Singers of an earlier generation tried to be clear with the words, but not at the expense of the melodic line. Baker and Moore are again almost self-consciously “magical” in their underlining of every dot and dash in “Abendstern”. I suppose they are short of the point where the word “mannered” has to be uttered. However do Iven and Kehring, in their more straightforward way, actually miss out on anything? The recent tendency has been to describe the Fischer-Dieskau approach as “interventionist” and to rediscover the beauties of the older “bel canto” approach. We should be glad to have two such convincing, but different, interpretations of several of these songs.

In “Die Sternennächte” I did feel, even before I started comparisons, that Iven was a bit too upfront and daylit, and sure enough, Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson (Hyperion) give a beautifully hushed picture of the moonlit night. But the poem isn’t only about moonlight, and when the same music in the third stanza has the somewhat trite conclusion “So I happily conclude/That our little earth too,/Full of discord and danger,/Shines cheerfully”, Iven’s more lilting tempo sounds absolutely right. So maybe she has a point after all. Something similar happens in “Beim Winde”. It begins “They dream, clouds,/stars, moon”, and Lott and Johnson certainly sound dreamy. But it goes on “They rock and nestle down deep”, and we get the rocking from Iven and Kehring.

In “Auflösung” it has to be admitted that Janet Baker lets forth all the glory of her voice and I doubt if Iven would have the same versatility to move from lieder to the tragic queens of Donizetti and Berlioz and so much else. But taken on her own terms she nonetheless manages a fully effective performance of this song, with a thrilling high G near the end.

It will not have escaped you that Dames Janet and Felicity are two singers whose names travelled the world. The name of Christiane Iven has not yet done so, but I certainly felt no embarrassment in comparing her versions with theirs; indeed, she frequently offers a refreshing alternative.

Naxos do not provide the in-depth song-by-song notes we got from Hyperion, but the essay by Michael Kube is excellent by any standards and we get full texts and English translations. The recording is first-class, completing an outstanding contribution to lieder on record.

Christopher Howell

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music

Am See (second version) D124
Augenlied D297
Liane D298
Abendlied der Fürstin D495
Sehnsucht D516
Schlaflied (Schlummerlied) (first version) D527
Am Strome D539
Uraniens Flucht D554
Iphegenia (second version) D573
Atys D585
Erlafsee D586
Beim Winde D669
Die Sternennächte D670
Abendstern D806
Auflösung D807