French Canadian bass-baritone Philippe Sly has gained international recognition for his “beautiful, blooming tone and magnetic stage presence” (San Francisco Chronicle). Mr. Sly, a First Prize winner [...]
They spoke about it
A great record! Superb ★★★★★.
— Le Parnasse Musical
An album of great beauty.
— ICI Musique
With his exceptional voice, Philippe Sly sings with an expressiveness and a musical sense worthy of the great performers.
— La Presse
The warmth of his voice, the laid-back, thoughtful and natural tone of the baritone Philippe Sly help to create graceful moments on many occasions.
— Passion Musique et Culture
It’s intimate and immediate music-making that’s sure to bring new audiences to these little Schubert gems.
— CBC Music
A beautiful and memorable album.
— The WholeNote
Schubert and the guitar – From Arts nova to modern song
A shy, modest genius, Franz Peter Schubert never held an official musical position, unlike his contemporaries. Living frugally, surrounded by friends from the artistic and literary worlds, Schubert was the focal point of occasional informal artistic gatherings dubbed “Schubertiades”. These meetings were an occasion for him to show off his most recent compositions, foremost among them his lieder. Many of these – he wrote over 600 in all – may very well have taken shape at the guitar; Schubert learned to play the instrument early on in life, and he owned several instruments, which he would play before breakfast, occasionally honouring the impromptu visit of a friend with the performance of a freshly composed lied. Schubert’s financial situation meant he could not afford a piano, so the guitar was one way he could hear how his compositions sounded. Since at the time, the instrument enjoyed great popularity, many music publishers, including Schubert’s publisher Diabelli, offered transcriptions of his works for guitar. It is unsurprising, then, that the first edition of the lieder cycle Die Schöne Müllerin – from which Der Müller und der Bach on this recording is taken – was published with a guitar accompaniment. Uncontestably a master of the lied, Schubert may also be considered as one of the forefathers of the modern song. From the time of Ars nova (new art) – the 14th century musical style of which the poet and musician Guillaume de Machaut was among the principal proponents – lyric forms underwent numerous poetical and stylistic innovations that ultimately led to the first strophic songs for solo voice in the early 16th century. Gradually, lyric forms from the age of the troubadour – when the lute, cousin of the guitar, was a preferred means of expression – converged into the German lied.
This meeting of Philippe Sly and guitarist John Charles Britton (who made the arrangements for this recording) is definitely not coincidence. Collaborators for a number of years, the two artists see these Schubert Sessions as a way to broaden and heighten Schubert’s place in popular culture, in particular in terms of his influence on modern popular song. The recording also fulfills a need to revisit these lyric masterpieces in a form that emphasizes not only their idiom (many of these pieces, including Wohin? and Auf Dem Wasser zu singen, exhibit writing that is more guitaristic than pianistic) but their polymorphic essence. A seemingly simple task, yet a daring one: to present, in its most natural form, a collection of pieces whose expressiveness allows them to fly free of basic principles, or to avoid a certain dogmatism – fictional or real – present in the world of classical music.
It would be impossible to conclude without mentioning friendship, a value dear to Schubert’s heart that Sly and Britton also share. Compared with the piano, the guitar gives the accompanist greater proximity to the singer. This artistic rapport will be even more perceptible to the attentive listener. The composer Albert Stadler wrote about his friend Schubert: “If Schubert was with us, we shut him in the ‘Kamerate’ [living room and study] during this time, gave him a few scraps of manuscript paper, and any volume of poetry which happened to be at hand, so that he could while away the time. When we returned from church there was usually something finished, and this he gladly let me have… He faithfully brought us what he composed at home, and we rushed, with or without him, to a far-off room that had a pianoforte – we were enthusiastic and admiring. And when we expressed our feelings thus, he sat quietly at the instrument, smiled, or told a joke. But he was nevertheless pleased that we had understood him.”* This last sentence alone conveys the breadth of sensitivity and generosity that wasSchubert’s genius.
*Translated excerpt from J.-G. Prud’homme (1928), Schubert raconté par ceux qui l’ont vu, Paris: Stock
© Claudio Pinto