With this disc, which contains every song Schubert composed in his final year, Hyperion's Schubert Edition comes to an end. Not only are the Schwanengesang songs of Heine, Rellstab, and Seidl here, but so are the other three Rellstab settings, the other two Seidl settings, and the trio setting of Küffner's adaptation of Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. At 79 minutes and 30 seconds, the disc is as full as possible of great music, and at 112 pages of liner notes, the disc's box is as full as possible of accompanist Graham Johnson's every thought and feeling on these 20 songs.
As the Edition's mastermind, Johnson adopted the strategy of using three different tenors for the three different sets of songs: the young German Michael Schade for the five non-Schwanengesang songs, the not-quite-so-young John Mark Ainsley for the Rellstab Schwanengesang songs, the starting-to-get-long-in-the-tooth tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson for the Heine Schwanengesang songs, and all three together for the Küffner trio. Schade's fresh voice makes his songs sound like the work of a young composer feeling his oats. Ainsley's more mature voice makes the Rellstab Schwanengesang songs sound like the work of a composer at the peak of his powers. Johnson's perhaps too-mature voice makes his Heine Schwanengesang songs sound like the work of a composer who has been battered, beaten, and broken by life, a composer with one foot in the grave. Depending on how you feel about the songs, this strategy is either brilliant or flawed. Schade's voice is fine for his songs, and Ainsley's voice is nearly ideal for his songs, but Johnson's voice is simply too torn and worn. This is a very, very great disc, and every Schubert lover should hear it.