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Song Cycle; Daniel Lippel, guitar (replica by Bernhard Kresse of a 19th-century guitar by J.A. Stauffer), Tony Arnold, soprano: Franz Schubert, 12 lieder: "Aufenthalt," "Das Fischermädchen," "Liebesbotschaft, " and "Ständchen" from Schwanengesang, D. 957, "Frülingsglaube," D. 686*, "Heidenröslein," D. 257*, "Lob der Tränen," D. 711, "Nacht und Träume," D. 827*, "Nachtstück," D. 672*, "Die Post" from Winterreise, D. 911, "Der Schiffer," D. 536*, "Sei mir gegrüß," D. 741*; New Focus Recordings FCR 127, 2012, TT 41:43, $16.00 from CD Universe, $10 as download from New Focus.
Transcriptions of lieder for solo instruments were common during the composer's lifetime, and have been made constantly ever since; think of perennial audience favorite often offered by recitalists as an encore, Franz Liszt's transcription for piano solo of Robert Schumann's "Widmung," for example. Many were made for household use by talented amateur musicians, although few such household musicians would have been able to execute Liszt's. These publications include a group of six of Schubert's lieder transcribed for solo guitar by Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-56), published by Carl Haslinger in Vienna in 1845 under the title 6 Schubert'sche lieder: für die guitare übertragen von J.K. Mertz [see the original score here, item 62], that may well not have been playable by an amateur either.
The CD offers all six, strictly alternating with six other lieder taken and/or adapted from Franz Schubert: Sixteen Songs with Guitar Accompaniment compiled by Thomas Heck and published by Tecla Editions in 1980 [Napoléon Coste, (1805-83) published, ca. 1836, a set of 13, setting French translations of the texts, including some of the same ones, also re-issued by Tecla in 2011.] The above listing is primarily alphabetical; an * indicates those that are sung. Note that all these are individual songs, not extracted from Schubert's cycles, while nearly all the solo guitar transcriptions are: four from the posthumously published Schwanengesang and one from Die Winterreise. They are arranged here to create a sort of cycle sub-divided into four parts entitled: "Separation" (3 songs), "Independence" (2), "Darkness" (3), and "Renewal" (4). The ordering of the solo guitar pieces does not follow Mertz's ("Lob der Tränen," "Liebesbotschaft," "Aufenthalt," "Ständchen," "Die Post," and "Das Fischermädchen"); neither do the sung songs follow Heck's. This is perhaps irrelevant, unless the compilers had reasons for their sequences.
Regardless of this unnecessary pseudo-cycle conceit, the progression of the recital is pleasing. The performances are all outstanding. Regular readers of my pieces will know that in general I find earlier instruments, particularly pianos, more pleasing to the ear, warmer and more melodious, for the music of their times than modern ones. If this replica guitar is any indication, the same would appear to be true for that instrument. Lippel handles it marvelously; I have rarely heard a guitarist produce sounds that are so crisp and precise yet also so eminently harmonious. In spite of the fact that many were written for male voices, Arnold communicates the texts well. Her good German diction is as crisp as Lippel's fingerings, and her delivery pleasant, with limited and well controlled vibrato, as suits this music.
The booklet gives the texts of all 12 lieder in the original German and English translations, with poets credited below the translations, but translators not credited anywhere, all in white print superimposed on black-and-white photos of scenes of natural settings devoid of people. A brief note about period transcriptions in general and the specifics about these, and some comments by critics about the two musicians (though no bios), appears on its last page, the inside of the back cover. I needed a magnifying glass to read anything in it. Both covers are color photos of natural scenes, also devoid of people, as are both covers of the cardstock sleeve and the inside of its front that forms a sleeve/pocket for the booklet, with track listings (without timings or total time) superimposed in white print on the back one. Credits appear beneath the clear plastic tray. Both artists are members of ICE, the International Contemporary Ensemble, which is clearly also interested in historically-informed performances if this issue is any indication.
My primary complaint about this recording is its length: it's only half full, or from my perspective, it remains half empty! It should have been fleshed out, and an easy way to do so would be to offer a sung version of the six lieder that are given only in their transcriptions for solo guitar by Mertz. Lippel undoubtedly has enough talent to have arranged them thus. This would have filled approximately half of the remaining available space. Some additional songs from Heck's collection could have been added to complete the roughly 80 minutes available on a CD. If this represents a live recital, the audience must have been left feeling hungry for more, as I was!