Much has been said about Schubert’s golden achievement, the more than 600 songs he gave the world, and those who interpret them.
Certainly the attention paid to what might be considered Schubert’s most golden of accomplishments, his unequalled lieder, could be classified as overwhelming. The efforts to find analogies between the songs and events or moments in the composer’s all-too-brief life; the thorough analysis of each heart-rending poem that supplies the text to a lied; the reams of critique concerned with the countless interpretations, heard both in concert halls and on recordings — the world surely has no need of an addition to all this. What I hope to do here is simply make several remarks about two approaches that affect me in an extremely personal way.
A less well-known tenor of golden quality, departed all too soon, left some gems behind.
Hein Meens is a name that not many will recognize in ready fashion, outside of certain areas in Europe, yet to all who heard him, he is unforgettable and a stand-out in what is admittedly a huge playing (read: singing) field. He brought something all his own to each piece he lighted upon; that something is fairly impossible to describe — a burnished golden sound that would subtly change color when the underlying emotion required it, a combination of gravitas dressed in a very open optimism, a clear diction humbly in service to the message. Any moment with this tenor passing by is infinitely worth experiencing. There are, unfortunately, not a great number of such moments on record. I am lucky to have attended recitals and participated in performances of Britten’s Serenade for Tenor and French Horn and Bach’s St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion, where, I believe, the world’s most expressive Evangelist appeared. Happily, Hein Meens did record Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin, an inscribed copy of which I was honored to receive from the singer himself. It is a treasure almost unavailable except for these sources on Amazon.com and assuredly worth going all out to own.
Silence is not always golden — far from it, in fact.
In my lifelong quest to find my favorite interpreter of particular works, I have concluded that the above-mentioned tenor has left us a tremendously satisfying version (several very small slips notwithstanding). The other master I continue to turn to, above all others, is the golden Fritz Wunderlich; one could hardly wish for more than , with one astounding exception. Curious as I was to compare, I acquired this recording with Peter Pears some years ago. Before I could calm down sufficiently to hear what turned out to be lovely, heartfelt singing, I had to recover from my state of complete astonishment at the magnificently lively piano-playing Benjamin Britten. No one else has ever come close, in my opinion, to equaling this accompaniment: