Friday 20 May 2016

The first volume of Vivat’s Decades - A Century of Song is an impressive start to what looks likely to be an exciting series

There is no shortage of complete editions of various composers’ songs which, in their own way are often invaluable. However, an exciting new project from Vivat Music entitled Decades - A Century of Song brings a completely new approach. This major new recording series will feature world-renowned singers who will draw listeners, decade by decade, through a century of song from 1810 to 1910. Each volume will present a well-planned, varied programme, performed by household names; but overall the series also has a wider aim, building a comprehensive survey of song right through the nineteenth century and, in doing so, creating an invaluable teaching asset.

Vivat have just released Volume 1 in this new series that covers the period 1810-1820, including songs from Austria, Bohemia, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, with works by Franz Schubert, Fernando Sor, Ludwig van Beethoven, Joseph Fabry-Garat, Sophie Gail, Václav Tomášek, Giovanni Battista Viotti, and Carl Maria von Weber. Part of the attraction of the series is the mix of the familiar with the rare: as well as presenting music by the great Austrian-German composers, the repertoire also ventures further afield. Future volumes will also add music from middle Europe, Russia and Scandinavia.

The singers for this first volume include the distinguished Canadian tenor Michael Schade  , sopranos Lorna Anderson  and the young Spaniard Sylvia Schwartz , mezzo Dame Ann Murray  and bass Florian Boesch , accompanied by the series’ creator, pianist Malcolm Martineau


This new disc opens with songs by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Malcolm Martineau brings a lovely rhythmic skip to the opening of Der Blumenbrief, D622 with tenor, Michael Schade bringing a finely controlled, wonderfully mellifluous tone. Schade is wonderful in his finely nuanced performance of Die Sommernacht, D289, exquisitely shaped, finding all of Schubert’s poetry. Täglich zu singen, D533 has a suitable earnest quality, Schade and Martineau finely moulding the text. There is a rich fluent opening to An den Mond, D193 from Martineau before Schade brings the most beautifully shaped phrases, fairly caressing the text before rising through a faster section bringing a greater passion. Exquisitely done.  

Soprano, Sylvia Schwartz brings a youthful exuberance to Freude der Kinderjahre, D455, wonderfully characterised. She draws some fine phrases in the lovely Wiegenlied, D304 with Martineau finding a wonderful restraint and poetry, magically done. Michael Schade returns for Das Heimweh, D456 where he is impressive in this lovely setting, bringing wonderful control and shaping of the text. There is a fine rhythmic flow to Seligkeit, D433 with Schade showing just how wonderfully he adjusts to each text, here with lovely buoyancy.

Moving to rarer repertoire, Sylvia Schwartz brings us three songs by Fernando Sor (1778-1839). Malcolm Martineau opens De amor en las prisiones with a lovely, rhythmic, lightness of touch, Schwartz bringing a youthful vitality to this attractive song. She brings a particularly fine performance of Las mujeres y cuerdas negotiating every little twist and turn, using her bright tone to full effect. There is a lovely opening for piano in Mis descuidados ojos before Schwartz brings the most lovely tone to what is arguably the finest song of these three, superbly controlled in the quieter moments.

Michael Schade returns for Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) Three Songs Op.83, all Goethe settings. Both he and Malcolm Martineau bring a wonderfully nuanced Wonne der Wehmut, Op. 83, No. 1 full of the most lovely poetic feeling with moments of intense passion. Schade brings a terrific agility to the more upbeat Sehnsucht, Op. 83, No. 2 with some quite lovely playing from Martineau, both revealing moments of subtle poetry. Mit einem gemalten Band, Op. 83, No. 3 has a wonderfully phrased, rhythmic piano line over which this tenor brings a fine dynamic control with many subtleties. This is a lovely trio of songs from this wonderful tenor.

Joseph Dominique Fabry Garat was a brilliant tenor who was born in Bordeaux in 1774. The year of his death is not known. His Plainte à Hortence is sung by Lorna Anderson with her very lovely vibrant soprano tone, finely shaped and controlled, finding so much of the text’s feeling. Wonderfully done.

Sophie Gail (1775-1819) was also a French singer as well as pianist and composer, writing a number of opéras comique as well as songs. Malcolm Martineau gives a vibrant rhythmic lift to the opening of her song, Bolleros with Lorna Anderson delivering the most wonderful vocal line, full of flexibility and passion.

The Czech composer Václav Jan Tomášek (1774-1850) gives us four Goethe settings of which Nähe des Geliebten is particularly lovely, Michael Schade finding a variety of emotion with a fine piano accompaniment that subtly rises centrally. Malcolm Martineau provides a wonderful opening to An die Entfernte, beautifully phrased with such lovely vocal shaping and agility from this tenor, finding every nuance of the text. There is a lovely rippling piano opening to Schäfers Klagelied to which Schade brings a finely controlled phrasing and dynamics, so subtle, rising wonderfully in passion before a beautifully shaped coda. Rastlose Liebe is strongly characterised by this tenor, full of energy and feeling.

Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824) was an Italian violinist and composer whose songs it is good to hear. Ann Murray is in fine voice in the lovely Stanco di pascolar, WVII-10 a rather fine setting of a traditional Breschian text, beautifully realised here. Privez l’amour de sa flèche cruelle, WVII-4, a setting of a text by Louis-Philippe de Ségur is equally finely done.

Michael Schade brings a beautifully dark hued Abendlied unterm gestirnten Himmel, WoO 150 a setting of Heinrich Goebleby Beethoven that rises through moments of great power, with Malcolm Martineau providing a finely judged accompaniment in this excellent performance.

Schade is again wonderfully impressive in Carl Maria von Weber’s (1786-1826) Abschied vom Leben, Op. 41, Heft 1, No. 2, finding strength, power, emotion and fine poetry, as does Martineau in his quite wonderfully evocative and poetic accompaniment.

We return to Schubert for the concluding eight songs on this disc, a composer who rightly occupies an important position in this volume. Baritone, Florian Boesch brings a fabulously dark atmosphere to Das Grab, D569, a setting of a text by Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis, beautifully controlled with a glorious tone.  

Michael Schade takes the next six songs, all Goethe settings, raising the spirits in the lively, buoyant Der Fischer, D225, bringing some quite lovely phrases, wonderfully characterised and illuminating so many little details in the text. Erster Verlust, D226 has some beautifully shaped vocal lines with both soloist and pianist gently rising and falling as they bringing great expression to this song. There is a lovely flow to An den Mond, D259; a gentle, beautifully wrought performance. Wanderers Nachtlied I, D224, Op. 4, No. 3 is perfectly paced and phrased, beautifully controlled and shaped; quite exquisite.  

Rastlose Liebe, D138 sets the same Goethe text as did Tomášek earlier on this disc. Schade and Martineau bring terrific agility in this fast and furious song. Malcolm Martineau introduces Ganymed, D554, Op. 19, No. 3 with a lovely light rhythmic touch with this tenor bringing his own little dynamic emphases, rising in passion later with a finely shaped conclusion.

Soprano, Sylvia Schwartz brings a really lovely, bright and spirited Wer kauft Liebesgötter, D261, another Goethe setting, to conclude this collection with a real sense of joy.

There are some wonderful performances here from this terrific line up of soloists all wonderfully accompanied by Malcolm Martineau whose playing is a joy.

The recording and presentation are up to Vivat’s usual high standard with a generous 72 page booklet with authoritative booklet notes in three languages by renowned song expert and series consultant Prof Susan Youen, together with full texts and translations and artist and session photographs. 

This first volume of Decades - A Century of Song is an impressive start to what looks likely to be an exciting series.

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