I first encountered Matthias Goerne’s artistry 17 years ago with his first contribution to Hyperion’s landmark Schubert Edition; he opened with Lob der Tränen and one was bowled over by the sheer beauty of the voice with its velvet sheen and rich, dark colour. He was granted the honour of providing the edition’s Winterreise which was predictably excellent then jumped ship to Decca and for me the shine went off ever so slightly. His singing took on some mannerisms that started to pall with repetition; fussy micro-managed phrasing and a tendency to croon. Thankfully that turned out to be just a stage in his artistic development and with him signing to Harmonia Mundi for an 11 disc survey of Schubert Lieder those artifices have disappeared.
We live at a time when there is an extraordinary array of fine singers tackling this repertoire, but this series is something quite special; the overwhelmingly moving Die Schöne Mullerin from 2009 with Christoph Eschenbach’s magisterial accompaniment is one of my desert island discs and the very definition of the word Innigkeit.
This final instalment with its predominantly nocturnal imagery is on a similar plane with limpidly beautiful and subtle contributions by Helmut Deutsch and Eric Schneider. Listen to Goerne and Schnieder perfectly at one in An der Mond; the octave doubling of the piano melody in the final stanzas illuminating the vocal line. Or behold Goerne’s miraculous breath control in Litanei or Die Sterne, both taken daringly slow with the voice reduced to the merest pianissimo thread yet the tone still perfectly focused – and no crooning!
Old favourites such as Heidenröslein and Der Musensohn are delivered with refreshing simplicity and artlessness while the familiar Auf dem Wasser zu singen is urgent and nervous and transcends the mere pretty.
Goerne tends to favour an intimate confiding tone so the few times when he does decide to let rip really hit home and one is startled by his dynamic range. His word painting is fine detailed and subtly coloured but never at risk of disturbing the lyrical line. The eloquence of Schubert’s melodies and their underlying harmonic structure is at the fore and the poetic imagery glows – see, it is possible to have beauty AND truth.
As usual Harmonia Mundi’s deluxe packaging and intelligent programme notes are a pleasure and with a sound quality so natural that you may well take the technical artistry involved for granted. For those already collecting the series purchase is obligatory. Newcomers be warned; this could be classified as a ‘gateway drug’. Sublime.