Julius Drake / Gerald Finley

Schubert: Schwanengesang; Brahms: Vier ernste Gesänge

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The pairing of Franz Schubert's Schwanengesang and Johannes Brahms' Vier ernste Gesänge gives this 2019 Hyperion album a somber cast that is appropriate for songs about loss and death, though the gloom is relieved by the composers' uplifting lyricism and the sublime artistry of the performers. Schubert's last songs were published posthumously, and the darker songs, such as Kriegers Ahnung, In der Ferne, Die Stadt, and Der Doppelgänger, are often seen as reflections of his despair over knowledge of his impending death. Yet his irrepressible gift for gorgeous melodies makes Liebesbotschaft, Frühlingssehnsucht, Abschied, and Das Fischermädchen bright spots in the cycle, and the beloved Ständchen is among Schubert's most inspired creations. Brahms' set of songs were overtly stated as an expression of his personal and rather pessimistic feelings about life and death, though the three settings of passages from Ecclesiastes are somewhat mitigated by the exceptionally cheerful setting of verses from I Corinthians. Baritone Gerald Finley and pianist Julius Drake are highly esteemed in the field of art songs, and as their 2014 Hyperion release of Winterreise demonstrated, their superb musicianship is often reminiscent of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore, both in emotional power and controlled technique. Even though the album may be heavy going because of its serious tone and grim subjects, and may cause some listeners to sample it, Finley and Drake make the experience thoroughly compelling and well worth hearing in one sitting.

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