Pentatone’s recent album, Schubert Songs orchestrated by Max Reger and Anton Webern are marvellously performed by the German tenor Christian Elsner with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marek Janowski.
Elsner is on familiar ground with the Schubert lieder, having extensively recorded and performed reams of the great Germanic vocal works, such as Wagner’s Das Rheingold (also a Pentatone venture) and Schubert song cycles, most notably Winterreise and Die schone Mullerin. The orchestral accompaniment (13 of the songs are orchestrated by Max Reger and four by Anton Weber) adds an incredible amount of depth, without hindering the intimacy normally found in the voice and piano lieder setting, providing many wholeheartedly ravishing moments.
Marek Janowski’s subtlety and brilliance brings out the instrumental colours in an astonishingly impressive way, from heightened raw emotion in Prometheus to serene tranquillity in Nacht und Träume. Particularly striking is the brooding Erlkönig, based on a poem by Goethe, which comes across all the more menacing when orchestrated, displaying what is arguably one of the most memorable bass-lines in the lied genre. The richness and subtlety of Elsner’s voice is true to the spirit of Schubert. The sense of tension built up by the orchestra and the looming fate of the characters played out by Elsner is purely awe-inspiring.