There may be two or three things in the world more beautiful than the way Gerhard Husch sang Schubert's "An die Musik" in 1938, but I doubt that there are four or five. Those who would like to verify that judgment (which is, I must admit, hopelessly subjective) can do so thanks to a new CD on the Austrian Preiser label (89017), which contains 17 Schubert recordings made by the great German baritone at the height of his career, from 1934 to 1939.
Besides 13 selections with Hans Udo Mueller at the piano, this disc has four previously unreleased "Schwanengesang" songs with Gerald Moore. Husch's breath control and mastery of subtleties in dynamics and phrasing are exemplary, as is his emotional identification with the music. The program concentrates on basic Lieder repertoire ("Der Musensohn," the Rellstab Serenade, "Erlkoenig," etc.) and would be an excellent introduction to this repertoire if German and English texts had been provided.
The clearest heir to the Husch tradition active today is tenor Peter Schreier. His recording of the 14 songs of Schubert's "Schwanengesang" cycle, plus four others with texts by Rellstab and Seidl (London 425 612-2 with texts and translations), is a constant delight and revelation. Pianist Andras Schiff is, as he should be, a fully equal partner in these performances.
I am accustomed to hearing "Die Winterreise" sung by a baritone, occasionally a tenor -- logically, since this great Schubert cycle is about a man disappointed in love. So it took a few repeat performances to get used to the voice of mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbaender in this music (EMI CDC 7 49846 2, with texts and translations), but each time I hear it I am more impressed by the beauty of her tone and her emotional response to this heartbreaking music.
Soprano Elly Ameling and pianist Joerg Demus collaborate (on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77085-2-RG, with texts and translations) in beautifully styled performances of eight songs by Schubert and 20 by Schumann. Particularly noteworthy in this excellent set is Schubert's "The Shepherd on the Rock," in which they are joined by clarinetist Hans Deinzer. Ameling is also featured in Vol. 7 (Hyperion CDJ33007) of the Hyperion recording of Schubert's complete songs, now up to Vol. 8 and scheduled to continue growing until the Schubert bicentennial in 1997. Pianist and annotator Graham Johnson is the organizer and unifying element in this massive project, which will feature many singers (one per CD) and hours of unfamiliar but good material. Johnson has been matching singers very perceptibly with songs and, by the way, finding a remarkable number of English and American singers adept in this repertoire. Two singers unfamiliar in this country but very impressive on these discs are tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson in Vol. 6 (Hyperion CDJ33006) and mezzo-soprano Sarah Walker in Vol. 8 (CDJ33008). Arleen Auger is scheduled for Vol. 9, and those who have heard her sing this repertoire at the Kennedy Center can hardly wait. Each volume has full texts, excellent translations and very detailed notes. Piano Schubert's most brilliant piano composition is the "Wanderer" Fantasy in C, D. 760; the one with the strongest emotional appeal is the Sonata in B-flat, D. 960. Both are heard in unforgettable performances by Alfred Brendel in Vol. 7 of what will be a complete set (Philips 422 062-2) in the first three volumes of a complete recording for Denon (3787 2, 4499 2 and 6330 2), French pianist Michel Dalberto shows an interesting musical personality and a fine sense of how to shape a phrase. His interpretations are well worth hearing and owning, but I suspect that most people, if they had to choose one pianist, would choose Brendel. Chamber Music The Auryn String Quartet, which has made such a strong impression in several appearances here, will be back at Gaston Hall next weekend under the auspices of the Schubert, Schubert and Schubert Festival, which introduced it to the United States a few years ago. Its first recording (Tacet 5) is also devoted to Schubert -- the Quartet in G, D. 887, and the Quartet Movement ("Quartettsatz") in C minor, D. 703 -- and it confirms the strong impression this group has made in its live appearances here. The Auryn has not only the bouncy vitality and technical precision we expect of young musicians; but it also has a sensitivity, emotional power and sense of musical form that would be impressive at any age. This CD is worth a little extra effort to hear.
Tacet is a German label -- new and still small, without regular American distribution. But the Arts Connection, sponsor of the Schubert Festival, has imported a few copies. They can be bought at the festival or by mail (for $12.50 plus mailing costs) from the Arts Connection, P.O. Box 196, Hyattsville, Md., 20781.
Schubert's music for violin and piano is pleasant, melodious and relatively unimportant compared with his larger works. But all of it (the three Sonatinas, the Duo D. 574, Fantaisie, D. 934, and Rondo, D. 895, is beautifully played by Isaac Stern and Daniel Barenboim on Sony S2K 44504 (2 CDs). A much more popular work, though the instrument for which is it was composed is obsolete, is the Arpeggione Sonata, D. 821, as appealing a series of melodies as has ever been set down on paper. In the absence of arpeggiones (a sort of guitar played with a bow), it is heard most often on the cello, occasionally on the violin, clarinet or even flute. Recently, two violists have claimed it for their instrument. Yuri Bashmet (RCA 60112-2-RC) has as delectable a tone as I have ever heard from a stringed instrument; Yizhak Schotten (Crystal CD635) sounds a bit less opulent but digs effectively below music's surface. Both include the Schubert work in miscellaneous recital programs. Bashmet includes better-known repertoire such as Schumann's "Marchenbilder" and Bruch's "Kol Nidrei" (composed for cello). Schotten's program is less familiar but well worth knowing: a suite by Marin Marais, Britten's magnificent "Lachrimae" and a pleasant, neoromantic set of variations for viola and orchestra by Alan Shulman.
Now Playing The Boys Choir of Harlem, which will perform Saturday night in the new Center for the Arts at George Mason University, is one of the finest and most versatile ensembles performing today in the ancient (primarily English) cathedral choir tradition. It is also a tribute to the value of good music, as inspiration and as discipline, for instilling positive values in young lives. Since the choir's foundation in 1968, 98 percent of its alumni have gone on to college, many to musical careers. It is appropriate that this chorus, with distinguished soloists and the excellent Orchestra of St. Luke's, has recorded a tribute to the cosmic power of music: Handel's "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day," set to a well-known text by John Dryden (Timeless Records TC1501). The disc also has the brilliant, joyful Cantata for Soprano, Tenor, Boys Choir and Chamber Orchestra by Washington composer George Walker, with texts from the Book of Psalms ("The Lord Is My Shepherd"). The boys treat this music as their personal property -- appropriately, since the choir commissioned it. They also make it sound worthy to share a disc with Handel's masterpiece, though the works are very different in style. The disc can be ordered from the Boys Choir of Harlem, 127 West 127th St., New York, N.Y. 10027.
The Cathedral Choral Society will include Russian and American music on its program today at the Washington Cathedral: Taneyev's cantata "John of Damascus" and the world premiere of Washington composer Daniel Gawthrop's "Four Seasonal Metaphors." Its expertise in Russian music was demonstrated magnificently in May 1988 in a program celebrating the millennium of christianity in Russia, now available on a CD titled "Millennium: Russian Choral Music" (Centaur CRC 2038, with texts and translations). With the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Mstislav Rostropovich, Washington has become a major center of Russian orchestral music. Now, with the help of J. Reilly Lewis and his chorus, it is also making its presence felt in Russian choral music. The performances are expert and heartfelt; the music (which includes such composers as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff as well as less familiar and anonymous musicians) is exquisite.