Tag Archives: Schubert




Taryn Fiebig (soprano)

Mark Coughlan (piano)

Hale Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn


If William Walton’s song cycle A Song for the Lord Mayor’s Table had been the only work on the program presented by Taryn Fiebig and Mark Coughlan, it would have been an altogether satisfying evening.


Had the shade of the composer hovered over proceedings at Hale Auditorium, it would surely have nodded approval at the performance of his song cycle.


From first note to last, this was a reading to savour with its complete identification with the score by  both musicians. The words were sung with a very real understanding of style – and the piano part could hardly have been bettered. It was a model of its kind.


Walton’s cycle is fiendishly difficult to bring off in both physical and interpretative terms – but on both counts the two musicians came through with banners flying. It was offered with splendid flair, the high point of the recital, not least for the exhilaration that informed so much of the more extravert songs in the cycle.

  Photo Credit: Steven Godbee



Also on the program were a bracket of lieder by Schubert as well as Samuel Barber’s Knoxville Summer of 1915. The latter was less persuasive due primarily to some less than clear diction. It lacked the fine focus that made the Walton cycle so satisfying. And of the Schubert bracket, it was Die Manner sind mechant (in which a young woman complains to her mother about her boyfriend’s roving eye) that came across best; it was a miniature delight.


Unintentionally, Taryn Fiebig has joined the ranks of that small group of artists who perform bare feet. Like the extraordinary flamenco dancer La Chunga and Rumanian violinist extraordinaire Patricia Kopachinskaja, Fiebig came on stage sans footwear which, she explained, was the unwanted outcome of playing with her pet dog. This resulted in a fall and broken toes which precluded the use of footwear.

Ben Martin (piano)

Keyed-Up recital series

Octagon Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Ambrose Bierce, that most crotchety of commentators, once described the piano as an instrument played by “depressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience”. But if, by some miracle of time travel, the long dead Bierce could have been present at Ben Martin’s recital, I’m sure he would have completely altered his dyspeptic view of the piano. Because, by even the most stringent of critical criteria, Martin’s recital in the Keyed-Up series could fairly be described as an uplifting listening experience.

His performance of Schubert’s Sonata in E flat was extraordinarily fine, so much so that there seemed to be far more to the performance than mere meaningful communication between musician and listener. On the contrary, the recital seemed an act of profound communion between pianist and composer – a rare phenomenon and all the more to be cherished for that.

For those who came to the recital in the hope of being dazzled by keyboard fireworks, the performance may have been something of a let down because this was a presentation devoid of conventional glib virtuosity and cheap appeals to the gallery. Instead, we heard a master pianist mining mostly quiet masterpieces for every imaginable, subtle nuance. Martin has at his disposal the means to coax a myriad pianissimo shadings from the instrument and they were employed in a magically musical way.

But there was much else on offer, too, not least a superb reading of Handel’s Suite No 1, the Prelude of which was informed by a quality of extemporisation that could hardly have been bettered. In passing: one wonders whether Saint Saens had the Prelude in mind while writing the first movement of his Piano Concerto in G minor: there are fascinating allusions to it in the keyboard’s utterance before the orchestra comes in for the first time.

Arnold Bax’s music is seldom heard. Many musicians tend to put it in the too-hard basket. Certainly, the Sonata in G sharp minor guards its secrets jealously. But, in his ability to reveal the Celtic demon that lurks behind the printed note, Martin is clearly privy to them all. In fact, the qualities of mind and heart brought to bear on the work were at such a level that it placed the critic in the pleasant predicament of having to do little other than to sit back and salute artistry of the highest order.

Also on the bill were short pieces by Delius and Vaughan Williams as well as Martin’s own Sonatine.

Copyright Neville Cohn 2006

Schubert: The Cycles Wolfgang Holzmair(baritone)

Schubert: The Cycles
Wolfgang Holzmair(baritone)
Imogen Cooper (piano)

Die schone Mullerin; Winterreise; Schwanengesang; 7 lieder

Philips 476-200-2 (3-CD pack)
TPT: 3:34:59

reviewed by Neville Cohn



There are so many fine recordings of Schubert’s great song cycles extant, many of them of exceptional standard, that one might question whether there’s a need of another – in this case a re-issue. What, if anything, does this re-release offer the listener that is not adequately, indeed, in some cases, superbly, explored on other CDs available at the present time?

After the most careful listening – and a good many re-hearings – to the Holzmair/Cooper partnership, the answer is very definitely in the affirmative, especially in relation to the Mullerin and Winterreise works.

Now, let it be unequivocally said that many – most, for that matter – of the other versions currently available are as technically skilled and tonally attractive in relation to both voice and piano; some, such as the Fischer-Dieskau/Moore recordings have the unmistakable stamp of greatness.

But what places the Holzmair/Cooper version of the cycles in a category largely of its own is the quite exceptional care lavished on the schubert1narrative aspect of the works, a sense of an unfolding, many-chaptered tale being related to the listener by master story tellers. The plural is deliberate, the piano accompaniments as crucial to the overall effect as the vocal line.

This is no mean achievement. Holzmair and Cooper present the cycles in a way that compels complete attention from first note to last. There is nothing in the current catalogue of available recordings that offers this crucial dimension at so high a level and so consistently. Here, the cumulative effect of Holzmair and Cooper’s approach to the the narrative’s development, especially in Winterreise, makes for enthralling listening.

Again and again, one is drawn ineluctably into the unique sound and mood world of Schubert who focussed his genius so unremittingly on Wilhelm Muller’s rather humdrum words that, for the duration of the performance, they sound significantly more profound and probing than they really are. This is rather like Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in which Victor Hartman’s quite ordinary drawings and paintings are given an immortality by the music that they would never have achieved on their own.

Certainly, in Winterreise, Holzmair and Cooper evoke, with uncanny skill, the bitterness of broken dreams that lies at the heart of the cycle, in which gloom and depression are all-pervading and where the effect of the forsaken protagonist’s corrosive loneliness transforms mere sadness into a despair beyond despair. And when, towards the close of the work, the hapless lover experiences mental disintegration – where, hallucinating, he looks up at the sky and sees, not one sun, but three – Holzmair and Cooper’s lieder partnership achieves greatness.

And in Die Schone Mullerin, the shifting moods of the cycle from blithe to suicidal are impressively evoked. Here is an account that is no less persuasive as an unfolding story, a performance brimming with meaning.

Here are innumerable felicitous touches. Listen, for instance, to Wohin?: how perfectly controlled the piano triplets are – and Holzmair’s lightness of tone here sounds entirely right. And there is about the presentation of Ungeduld a quality of palpitating breathlessness that is a perfect assessment of the impatience that is the title of this lied. And the so-elusive piano accompaniment to Der Lindenbaum is splendidly controlled and lyrical.

A minor reservation is an occasional inclination to overaccentuate this or that syllable in the vocal line.

Schwanengesang is given first rate treatment. I particularly admired the youthful, keen ardour brought to Standchen as well as the remarkable clarity of Cooper’s playing, so very difficult to achieve in Aufenthalt where, more often than not, the piano part can sound thick-textured and blurred. Here, fittingly, the vocal line comes across like a cry of pain. Listen, too, for that sinister sense of foreboding which Holzmair and Cooper conjure up in Herbst.

Liebesbotschaft, one of Schubert’s most poignant utterances, is most competently essayed although one felt a need for a rather more emphatic left hand to underscore Schubert’s glorious, shifting modulations in the piano part.

In addition to Schwanengesang, there are an additional seven lieder, each presented like a finely facetted gem.

These are performances that warrant pride of place in any collection of lieder recordings.

Copyright 2005 Neville Cohn

Country Classics ELOQUENCE – AROMATHERAPY series

Vaughan Williams, Canteloube, Beethoven, Schubert, Chabrier, MacDowell, Grieg, Massenet, Debussy, Johann Strauss II

TPT: 01:17:02

reviewed by Sophie Saxe-Lehrman 

An abiding impression of this compilation is the imaginative choice of works and a willingness to leaven chestnuts with relative rarities. A number of tracks may well be new to some, typically Shepherds’ Song and Shepherds’ Chorus from Schubert’s Rosamunde and Grieg’s Cowkeeper’s Tune to which Willi Boskovsky and the National Philharmonic Orchestra respond as if to the manner born in a recording dating from 1974. Zither virtuoso Anton Karas (for millions of cinema fans inextricably associated with the classic movie The Third Man) teams up with the Vienna Phiharmonic, again under Boskovsky, who, better than most and second to few, make musical magic in a 1962 recording of Strauss’ Tales from the Vienna Woods. And winning efforts by clarinets and cellos make Richard Bonynge’s direction of the National Philharmonic in Sous les tilleuls from Massenet’s Scenes alsaciennes a delight. I liked, too, Kiwi pianist Joseph Cooper’s lovingly fashioned account of MacDowell’s To a Water Lily. Expansive treatment and glowing tone make this a highlight. Kiri te Kanawa, too, enchants in Bailero from Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne (Jeffrey Tate conducts the English Chamber Orchestra).