Monday 28 March 2016

The Captive Nightingale: German romantic rarities from Elena Xanthoudakis

The Captive Nightingale - Elena Xanthoudakis - Signum
Schubert, Späth, Kreutzer, Proch, Kalliwoda, Lachner, Lindtpaintner; Elena Xanthoudakis, Jason Xanthoudakis, Clemens Leske; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 82016
Star rating: 4.0

Schubert's shepherd in context with music for clarinet, soprano & piano by his contemporaries

What to programme with Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen is always something of a challenge in recitals and on CDs. Schubert didn't write anything else quite like it and there are few works for the same forces which immediately suggest themselves. But for this disc, The Captive Nightingale, from Signum Classics, soprano Elena Xanthoudakis, clarinettist Jason Xanthoudakis (the two are brother and sister) and pianist Clemens Leske have done some digging and come up with a whole array of songs written for soprano, clarinet and piano by Schubert's contemporaries.

These are lesser known composers, Andreas Späth, Conradin Kreutzer, Heinrich Proch, Johann Baptist Wenzel Kalliwoda, Franz Lachner, Johann Sobeck and Peter von Lindpaintner, and unlike Schubert, most had court appointments of some sort and combined careers as composer and conductor, generally with the title kapellmeister. Most of the composers were writing for the salon or the parlour and these were songs which were meant to please, and the addition of a clarinet meant that someone else got to show off as well.

But one of the fascinating things about the disc is how the other songs feed into Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen. Schubert's quasi-aria might be written on a far larger scale, but the text uses the same enthusiasm for things mountainous and Alpine, and the melody with its leaping arpeggios has qualities which are similar to the melodies based on the traditional Swiss Kureihen or Ranz des vaches. So what we see is Schubert taking familiar tropes and creating something extra special from them.

Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen was in fact commissioned by Anna Milder-Hauptmann, the soprano who had sung the title role in both versions of Beethoven's opera Fidelio. The piece was intended to be large-scale and aria like, and coming at the end of Schubert's life it makes you wonder what was next. The performers include a second piece of Schubert on the disc, the romance Helen's Air from his singspiel Die verschworenen, a charming aria with clarinet obbligato.

To a certain extent, including Schubert's songs does rather show up the remainder. Not that they are bad, but these are firmly aimed to please the denizens of the salon or the parlour, and Schubert's writing immediately takes us to a far more sophisticated world. Perhaps the largest scale piece of the non-Schubert works is the Weberian Der Hirt und das Meerweib (The Shepherd and the Mermaid) by Peter Joseph von Lindpainter which includes a remarkably large scale and complex clarinet part, clearly designed to show off a real virtuoso. See below for a charming animated version of this song.

One of the composers, Franz Lachner was in fact a friend of Schubert's and the performers include two of Lachner's songs from his Frauenliebe und -leben cycle (setting Adalbert von Chamiso's poems like Schumann). Whilst not quite the equal of Schubert, Lachner's songs are far more lieder-like than the other songs and explore emotions which are somewhat deeper and darker.

The majority of works on the disc are charmingly lyrical, with some lovely arpeggiated melodies either in the voice or the clarinet. None of the songs seem to have been written strictly for display but that does not mean they are easy to perform. Elena Xanthoudakis shows lovely combination of pin sharp accuracy in the more florid passages and a lovely sense of line. She sings the songs with the sort of art that conceals art which is just what they want. She brings similar virtues to the Schubert songs, but here I did rather want her to make a great deal more of the words, though Der Hirt auf dem Felsen does have the virtue of being beautifully thoughtful and finely shaped with the difficulties of the vocal line taken for granted.

The clarinet parts are taken with equal skill by Jason Xanthoudakis who seems to relish to more complex obbligato passages and produces streams of fine liquid tone to match his sister. The two work well as a pair, and are finely supported by pianist Clemens Leske.

Elena Xanthoudakis has recently come to prominence with her fine account of the title role in English Touring Opera's production of Donizetti's Pia de'Tolomei and anyone interested in her performance will be keen to acquire this disc. This is not a recent recording, it was in fact made in 2010 and seems to have languished in the vaults, which is a great shame.

But the disc is of interest for more than just fine singing and playing, the programme shows real imagination and helps to illuminate a vastly forgotten corner of the repertoire.

Andrea Späth (1792-1876) - Alpenlied
Conradin Kreutzer (1780-1849) - Das Mühlrad
Heinrich Proch (1809-1878) - Schweitzer's Heimweh
Heinrich Proch (1809-1878) - Die gefanene Nachtigall
Johann Baptist Wenzel Kalliwoda (1801-1866) - Heimathlied
Franz Lachner (1803-1890) - Seit ich ihn gesehen
Franz Lachner (1803-1890) - Er der Herrlichste von allen
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) - Romanze 'Helen's Air'
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) - Der Hirt auf dem Felsen
Johann Sobeck (1831-1914) - Meine Heimat
Johann Baptist Wenzel Kalliwoda (1801-1866) - Der Sennin Heimweh
Peter von Lindpaintner (1791-1856) - Der Hirt und das Meerweib
Elena Xanthoudakis (soprano)
Jason Xanthoudakis (clarinet)
Clemens Leske (piano)
Recorded 20-21 September, 8-9 November, 13 December 2010 at Trackdown Studios, Sydney, Australia
SIGNUM SIGCD0398 1CD 64.50
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