At the beginning of this month, Steinway & Sons released an album of the complete vocal music composed by Artur Schnabel. To the best of my knowledge, this is available as a physical CD; but the best source for those preferring this medium will be Barnes & Noble. On the other hand those that have grown comfortable with the digital domain will be happy to know that the Amazon Web page presents a download that includes the accompanying booklet (which includes the texts of all 23 songs in both German and English translation).
This album was produced by pianist Jenny Lin, following up on the two-CD album she had produced of Schnabel’s complete works for solo piano (whose Amazon.com Web page allows for both physical and digital versions). (Some readers may recall that Lin recently visited Herbst Theatre this past November 19, presenting the Philip Glass Mixtape program with fellow pianist Adam Tendler.) On her new album she performs with contralto Sara Couden. Couden is an alumna of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where I had previously experienced several satisfying encounters with her performances. More recently, she was one of the vocal soloists in the performance (also in Herbst) of Handel’s HWV 63 oratorio Judas Maccabaeus by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale in December of 2019.
Pianist Artur Schnabel and his wife Therese on the cover of the album being discussed (courtesy of Naxos of America)
Presumably Schnabel composed this modest collection of songs for his wife Therese, who was also a contralto. My own knowledge of her work goes back several decades to the five-CD release Schubert and Schnabel, which included five tracks of Franz Schubert’s Lieder given a husband-and-wife-duo performance. Those recordings sound more that a bit labored, but they were made in 1932 when both performers and technicians will still learning how to master recording technology.
This new Steinway & Sons release is definitely a change for the better. Each track is a crystal-clear account of a well-considered and nuanced performance. The first five tracks on the album are world premiere recordings of a collection of songs that were never given an opus number. Mind you, here in San Francisco encounters with vocal recitals are few and far between; so I would guess that most readers, like myself, had no idea that Schnabel had composed the 23 songs available on this album. They may not rise above the more familiar of works by Schubert or Hugo Wolf, but they still make for satisfying listening experiences. I would be only too happy to encounter any of them in a recital setting.