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Music review: Wolfgang Holzmair, Russell Ryan take on Schubert’s ‘Schwanengesang’

It is no surprise that Schubert, who far preferred composing music to marketing it, left a lot of unpublished compositions behind at his early death. Among these were the 14 songs that Tobias Haslinger (Beethoven’s publisher) foundand published as the collection he named “Schwanengesang,” or Swan Song, and that baritone Wolfgang Holzmair and pianist Russell Ryan performed (along with several other of Schubert’s Lieder) at the National Gallery on Sunday.

Not having been conceived as a cycle and on texts by three different poets, “Schwanengesang” doesn’t have a cycle’s internal structure, so it was left to Holzmair to give the program a coherent shape. He did this well, adding two songs, the lighthearted “Die Taubenpost” and the hopeful “Die Freien” to the beginning, and ending poignantly with the imponderables of the song “Schwanengesang.”

With the support of Ryan’s beautifully shaped accompaniment, Holzmair moved comfortably from moments of longing to intense passion. His voice is bright. His diction is excellent and, if he sometimes overdid a nasal spookiness (think a loud, child-chasing “Erlkonig”) in “Kriegers Ahnung,” “In der Ferne” and a couple of others, it did produce vivid if unsubtle drama.

What distracted from Holzmair’s performance, however, was his constant gesturing, the mannerisms of another more melodramatic age, not the natural body language of a singer singing. I found myself having to avert my eyes to really hear the music.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

Wolfgang Holzmair. (National Gallery of Art/Handout)
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