Stephen Varcoe

Schubert: The Complete Songs, Vol. 2

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Graham Johnson's idea of dedicating Vol. 2 of his Schubert edition to songs about water was, as they say, a natural. In all of Schubert's songs, water ranks below only flowers as a source of inspiration and he wrote some of the most delightful, the most awe-inspiring, the most suicidal songs as water songs. And although the volume of course does not include any of Schubert's most suicidal water songs from Die schöne Müllerin, it does include what is perhaps his most despairing song, Fahrt zum Hades (D. 526), along with many of his more typically cheerful water songs. Stephen Varcoe doesn't have the strongest or the deepest of baritones, but he more than compensates with his clarity and subtlety. In simple songs like the two settings of Fischerlied (D. 351 and D. 562), he makes the happiness of the music infectious. In more complex songs like Am Bach im Fruhling (D. 361) and Widerschein (D. 639), he makes the depths of the songs pellucid. In despairing songs like Der Storm (D. 565) and Fahrt zum Hades, Varcoe is able to convey the meaning of the songs without strain. But even while Varcoe does his best for Schubert's Der Taucher, the almost half-hour ballade is beyond his abilities. Graham Johnson is a superb accompanist -- his playing supports Varcoe but is still interesting in its own right -- and nearly as superb a writer -- his notes are informative and entertaining even for listeners who thought they knew Schubert's songs.

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