BBC Music Magazine - - Choral & Song Reviews -

Swan­song; On the River; The Shep­herd on the Rock

John Tom­lin­son (bass); with So­phie Be­van (so­prano), Ju­lian Bliss (clar­inet), Alec Frank-gem­mill (horn), Christo­pher Glynn (pi­ano) Signum SIGCD550 72:43 mins

This is the lat­est of Jeremy Sams’s trans­la­tions of Ger­man songs, which have gar­nered many fans. Sams’s trans­la­tions of Sch­wa­nenge­sang (here Swan­song) work well, for the most part; he’s re­spect­ful without slav­ish­ness, and ev­i­dently fa­mil­iar with the im­ages and sen­ti­ments of Ger­man Ro­man­ti­cism. I per­son­ally missed the orig­i­nal Ger­man texts in the book­let – Sams’s texts are surely meant to com­mu­ni­cate the po­etry rather than sup­plant it en­tirely.

John Tom­lin­son is a na­tional trea­sure, who con­tin­ues to cre­ate new op­er­atic roles. But de­spite his clear enun­ci­a­tion, his hefty sound is not ideal for Schu­bert. Yes, the songs are of­ten bleak and gloomy, espe­cially in these low trans­po­si­tions. But the youth­ful, ar­dent char­ac­ter of ‘Leave-tak­ing’, ‘Love Mes­sage’ and ‘Pi­geon Post’ is lost, the fa­mous ‘Ser­e­nade’ (Ständ­chen) is ag­o­nis­ingly avun­cu­lar, while ‘The Fisher Maiden’ wor­ry­ingly re­calls Mau­rice Che­va­lier thank­ing heaven for lit­tle girls. ‘My Home’ or ‘Far Away’, which have fuller ac­com­pa­ni­ments, bet­ter suit his Wag­ner-ripened tim­bre.

Two sub­stan­tial ob­bli­gato songs close this record­ing. ‘On the River’ (with horn) and ‘The Shep­herd on the Rock’ (with clar­inet) are both recital and record­ing favourites. The creamy clar­ity of both Alec Frank-gem­mill’s horn and Ju­lian Bliss’s clar­inet sound is a per­fect foil for So­phie Be­van’s ex­quis­ite, rounded legato. Un­for­tu­nately, Sams’s trans­la­tion does not come across clearly. Chris Glynn, al­ways a won­der­fully re­spon­sive pi­anist, could be more prom­i­nent through­out.

The recital there­fore amounts to less than the sum of its parts; these in­di­vid­u­ally out­stand­ing mu­si­cians don’t fully gel with this mu­sic or each other. Natasha Loges PER­FOR­MANCE ★★ RECORD­ING ★★★

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