Robert Franz (Franz was his middle name; he dropped Knauth) was hailed as the savior of the German lied as it went into decline in the 1840s, under competition from the waltz and other new urban dances. He had his admirers, including Liszt, who transcribed many of his songs for piano and helped Franz during an old age marked by ill health. The generous selection of songs offered here by Irish tenor Robin Tritschler and accompanist Graham Johnson suggests that Franz is worth a revival, although his songs remain within a rather narrow set of parameters. The program contains 47 songs, most of them between a minute and two minutes long, and Franz favored strophic poems of two or three stanzas. To judge from the selection here, his favorite poet was Heinrich Heine, whose seemingly artless, slightly melancholy, but often subtle and humorous verses fit Franz's style perfectly (or vice versa). Schubert set Heine's poems, too, and it is to Franz's credit that his settings have a different flavor even as they inhabit basically the same musical universe; Franz doesn't even match the degree of chromaticism found in some of the more extreme Schubert songs. Several of the songs were also set by Schumann in the cycle Dichterliebe, Op. 48, and here again Franz holds his own. Sample the quintessentially Heine Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen (On a Shining Summer Morning), and you'll likely find yourself hooked. Tritschler is a new voice on the Irish and English scenes, and he deserves credit for his adventurous attitude toward repertory as well as for his direct, appealing readings here. Recommended.
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