It is here (at the beginning of bar 16 and the words 'vom Himmel kommt es') that Schubert abandons the piano staves, and Eugene Asti takes over responsibility for the accompaniment. He does so with great imagination, yet with the tact of the true Schubertian who prefers simplicity to the over- ambitious pastiche which invariably strikes a false note. Schubert has left us the choral parts intact (although it is not always clear what he intends in terms of word underlay) so he leaves at least a skeleton of the work's basic harmony. Nevertheless it takes someone with Asti's skill as both accompanist and composer to devise a piano part which is convincing in reflecting the varying moods of water (as dictated by the words) but which also follows Schubert's signposts, hastily erected, concerning pianistic layout. Asti is not afraid to move high in the piano register when light, glistening textures are required, nor to abandon semiquavers altogether when the strength of 'Ragen Klippen dem Sturz' entgegen' calls for a Beethovenian Fifth Symphony motif (three upbeat quavers and hammered first beat of the bar), dramatic runs and stirring chords of longer note-value. The bass line of the accompaniment does not slavishly follow the choral bass line (which would have been a temptingly safe option) but achieves a convincing, and at times delightful, independence. Among the numerous felicitous details there is a particularly effective bass trill before the last 'Schäumt er unmutig' which reminds us how Schubert used this device in the first movement of the B flat major Piano Sonata, D960.
Extremely lovely is Schubert's move to a contemplative D flat major at the end of this setting ('Im flachen Bette schleicht er'). Here Asti follows Schubert's hints for a pedal D flat in the piano's left hand and the dactylic rhythm which gradually emerges in the accompaniment to this section, and which is the governing feature of the postlude, imparts an appropriate radiance (cf Die Sterrne) to the image of the stars mirrored in the surface of the lake. The composer's vocal line ends here despite the fact that there are two verses of poetry left. Asti decided not to attempt a completely new composition of these final eight lines. He has nevertheless made a new masterpiece accessible to choral singers. Because the voice part left to us is fully sketched, together with crucial clues concerning the harmonic direction of the interludes, this setting of Gesang der geiser über den Wassern may be more confidently performed as a piece of genuine Schubert than any other completion of a major vocal fragment.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1995
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