Decades Volume 2

Decades Volume 2
Lieder & Song 1820-1830
Ainsley, Gomes, Tritschler t, Hovhanissyan s, Connolly ms, Maltman bar, Malcolm Martineau p
Vivat Vivat114

The second of Malcolm Martineau’s projected ten ‘Decades’ CDs arrives at the period from 1820 to 1830, Schubert’s heyday of course, but also a time that would see the first teenage stirrings of Mendelssohn and Schumann while witnessing the rise of complementary songwriting styles by composers from Italy, France and even Russia.

Among the intriguing parallels drawn here are the ways in which composers like Bellini eschewed the sophisticated emotional and philosophical intellectualism of the German Lied, dominated as it was by profoundly searching poets like Goethe, and drew on the simpler formats of their native popular song traditions, or in the case of Glinka, felt the tug between his inclination to the German and the popular Frenchiness that pervaded the upper echelons of Russian society.

Like Volume 1, musical standards are sky high with distinguished British singers like John Mark Ainsley, Sarah Connolly and Christopher Maltman all in excellent voice, and engaging contributions too from rising star Robin Tritschler, Portugese tenor Luis Gomes, and Armenian soprano Anush Hovhannisyan.

Behind it all is the ever-insightful and enlightening musicianship of Martineau, arguably today’s most imaginative, bold and informative pianist, whose sensitive accompaniment, inventive detail and sheer rightness of approach across an eclectic range of Lieder and song proves a constant delight.

The three senior Brits divvy up the Schubert: ten acknowledged masterpieces that neatly bookend the disc. Maltman rides a heroic Auf der Bruck to start things off, wonderfully contrasted with his gently flowing Gondelfahrer. Ainsley is remarkably penetrating in Im Frühling, his voice flexible, his text naturally inflected, with Martineau’s pattering underpin utterly gripping, while Connolly is a perfect choice for Ellen’s three songs, her velvety mezzo fondly caressing the concluding Ave Maria.

Elsewhere, Hovhannisyan is bright and charming in three songs by Glinka – her beefy tone steadier than, say, Vishnevskaya – while Gomes’ light tenor is perfectly suited to Bellini’s tuneful brand of lilting salon fare. More unexpected is Niedermeyer’s Le Lac, a rollercoaster seven-minute Schumann-esque Gothic romance that Tritschler and Martineau render full of incident.

Although it’s good to hear them in context, the very early Schumann and Mendelssohn feel immature, but the two elf-haunted ballads by the still underrated Carl Loewe are masterpieces and Maltman and Martineau treat them as such. In their hands, Loewe’s Erlkönig rivals Schubert, while Herr Oluf is a tour de force of character singing and dramatic pianism.

The variety of voices and repertoire (familiar and less so) makes for an easy, appealing listen, and it’s all caught in highly natural sound by the Vivat engineers. Roll on the 1830s.