You’d be forgiven for asking who exactly Robert Franz (1815-92) is. His songs ticked all the right boxes by being superbly crafted and thought-provoking but also eminently singable and playable. Schumann, Mendelssohn and Liszt admired him, and echoes of his style can be heard in Brahms, Wolf and Pfitzner.
So why does no one sing Franz now? Unfortunately, he lived in Halle, far from the metropolises in which tastes were shaped. And more importantly, he stuck to writing miniatures at a time when a composer could only earn his/her stripes by composing monolithic symphonies, concertos and operas.
Franz deserves better, so this release is most welcome. Graham Johnson and Robin Tritschler offer a generous 47 songs (out of 279), conveying Franz’s full stylistic breadth in impressive poetry by figures like Heine, Eichendorff and Mörike. Tritschler’s gloriously sweet voice is perfect for these songs, if very occasionally under-energised. Johnson—that most sympathetic and imaginative of accompanists—weaves magic with colour, balance and timing. The liner notes are characteristically excellent, with useful short discussions of each song.
Song-lovers will enjoy hearing familiar words afresh, such as 'Wonne der Wehmut’, ‘Rastose Liebe’, ‘Im wunderschönen Monat Mai’ and ‘Um Mitternacht’, texts made famous in settings by Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Wolf. But in many songs, such as ‘Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen’, ‘Die Lotosblume’ and ‘Wie des Mondes Abbild’, they’ll also get to discover a completely original, vastly underappreciated musical voice.