A sizeable audience braved ".dem regen, dem Wind entgegen
.." on a stormy night at Glyndebourne to experience this "Winterreise,"
and what a journey it was, in every sense. This was a completely original
concept of the work, as different to his Hyperion recording as could
be imagined, yet very close in emotional impact to that of Quasthoff.
Goerne and Schneider present an introspective, intensely elegiac, lyrical
view of the work, still recognisably that of young men, whereas Quasthoff's
is beginning to move towards some kind of accommodation with the protagonist's
anger. As to which was the greater of the two versions (I heard Quasthoff
at Schwarzenberg a month ago - see the report under Festivals)
it would be impossible to say: I feel privileged to have heard them
both so close together, and they both have something individual to say
about this endlessly moving work.
One remark I would make, is that Quasthoff had an inestimable advantage
in his audience; of course, they were nearly all native German speakers,
so there were no heads buried in books for his recital; all eyes were
fixed upon the singer. Furthermore, from the moment singer and pianist
settled themselves on the platform at the Anjelika Kaufmann-Saal, the
audience was utterly still and silent, and remained so throughout save
for a few muffled sobs and hankied sniffs. After the last notes had died
away, there was a long, emotional silence which was only reluctantly
broken. Goerne was not so favoured; not only did he, and the rest of us,
have to wait and wait whilst dawdling latecomers sauntered in, but,
disgracefully, he and Schneider also had to wait after having composed
themselves on the platform, whilst one party went back and forth until
they had finally seated themselves.
During the recital, Goerne could look out at the stalls and witness a
sea of bowed heads as they all read their programmes or translations.
Nor were the audience as quiet as such performers merited; there was
much moist, unguarded coughing, of the kind which is done regardless of
where the music is, and as though the cougher were in his or her own
home. At the end, there was no silence at all, just - admittedly
enthusiastic - applause, for this inspired, and inspiring performance.
"Gute Nacht" showed surprising equanimity, at least in the light of what
followed it. Taken very slowly, like almost every other song, the
overwhelming mood here was one of wistfulness rather than bitterness,
the latter only welling up with "Die Wetterfahne." "Gefrorne Tränen" was
the perfect example of Goerne's art; he is unique in his range of vocal
tone colours, and this was amply shown here, from the numb whiteness of
the first line through the sweet freshness of "kühler Morgentau" to the
fierce warmth of "glühend heiss" and the desolation of "Winters Eis!"
Here, and in "Erstarrung," we are in the realm of anger rather than
acceptance, of despair rather than equanimity, but Goerne still manages
to evoke these feelings without undue vocal histrionics. Schneider's
accompaniment here was the equal of the singer's art; intense and
hovering on the edges of drama during most of the song, yet delicately
poignant at "Wo find' ich eine Blüte."
Perhaps "Frühlingstraum" might be said to epitomise their style of
interpretation. Taken at such a slow pace that you wondered if they'd
both make it - if any singer and pianist could - this was an
introspective, forlorn reading which showed with poetic grace that true
Schubertian sense of joy recalled contrasted with present misery
bitterly tasted. If there are any lines in any song to make me shed
tears, then "Doch an den Fensterscheiben / Wer malte die Blätter da?"
and " Die Augen schliess' ich wieder, / Noch schlägt das Herz so warm."
are the most likely, and both singer and pianist here seemed to be going
for those tear ducts; Schneider's playing of the quiet passages was so
delicate that you almost sensed rather than heard it, and Goerne's tone
and phrasing, especially at "das Herz so warm" were so direct and
intimate that you felt as though you were the only recipient of these
If one has to find a weakness, then it would be at "Die Post," where
Goerne's ambitious approach to the high E in the second stanza (at "Mein
Herz?) left him a little rawly exposed; this then seemed to throw
Schneider who fluffed a couple of notes in the next part. However, both
recovered for a searing account of "Der greise Kopf."
Graham Johnson describes "Das Wirtshaus" as "the grandest vocal hymn
that Schubert ever wrote," and Goerne's singing of it matched its
nobility, dignity and heartrending simplicity. It is marked "Sehr
Langsam," the slowest marking of any in the cycle, and, as Johnson
remarks, it is only breath control and ability to sustain a long legato
line which limits the breadth of tempo at which the song is performed.
Brendel once remarked that Goerne has "the longest breath" of any singer
he had accompanied, and ample evidence of this was provided here; we
hung on each phrase, and no one familiar with "Winterreise" could fail
to notice with admiration the singing of that crucially taxing word
"matt" with its exposed leap into the passagio.
"Die Nebensonnen," with its trance - like atmosphere, was unforgettably
performed, once again respecting the composer's instructions as few
others are able to do. The melody is one familiarly based upon a dance
tune, and Schubert's direction of "Nicht zu langsam" suggests the wish
to preserve a lilt in the music, albeit in slow motion. Schneider's
playing of the dark, obsessive piano part was inspired, and as for
Goerne's singing, it would be impossible to imagine anything more moving
than his ascending line at "Ja, neulich hatt' ich auch wohl drei" in
contrast to the unutterable sadness of "Nun sind hinab die besten
zwei.." or any finer phrasing or expressiveness than he gave to the
This was my first experience of Goerne's "Winterreise" in a recital; I
have now heard him in all three Schubert "cycles," and I have not
changed my view that he is the greatest active Lieder singer of our
time. The voice itself, that natural miracle, its most individual
characteristic being the magical mezza-voce, sweet yet with that sense
of latent power behind it, remains unequalled. With each recital he
seems to grow in interpretative stature, and each time I hear him I am
awakened to new wonders, new subtleties of interpretation, and perhaps
most of all, to new realisations not only of the potential of the human
voice but the power of a great singer to move us. That this marvellous
artist is still only in his early thirties, and that he has chosen to
devote most of his musical life to Lieder, are reasons to be very