Dietrich Fischer-Deiskau’s recordings of this work, of which I’ve selectively listed three below, still reign supreme but we have recently had a number of recordings to challenge his hegemony to the extent that three of them in particular join my select benchmarks:
- DG 477 7956 (3 CDs): Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Gerald Moore
- DG Originals 4474212: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Jörg Demus
- DG Virtuoso 4785186: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Daniel Barenboim
- Hyperion CDA30020: Matthias Goerne/Graham Johnson - see DL Roundup October 2010
- Linn CKD371: Peter Harvey/Gary Cooper (fortepiano) - see DL Roundup March 2011
- Harmonia Mundi HMU907484: Mark Padmore (tenor)/Paul Lewis: Recording of the Month - review
All the listed versions, to a greater or lesser extent, remind us that though the overarching mood of Die Winterreise is bitter, so that his friends believed that composing it had shortened Schubert’s life, there are moments of greater softness, even sweetness. For that reason Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman (Stone Records 5060192780222 - DL News 2013/7) don’t feature on my select list: they stress the bitterness right from the start, which is fine if you want the performance to be one of unmitigated despair.
That’s not how I view Die Winterreise - in Germany and Austria Der Lindenbaum is sung, like Heidenröslein, as if it were a folk song and it’s surely right to hear it as an island of relief in a sea of ever-increasing tension. It’s not just that it goes against that tradition to hear it sung with almost the same intensity as Der Leiermann, but unrelieved bitterness defeats its own purpose and Gerald Finley and Julius Drake bring out all the tenderness that I could want, though without sentimentalising the piece. There’s plenty of stark drama in the middle section in this performance as the cold wind blows the wanderer’s hat off, yet he trudges on without turning back - Die kalten Winde bliesen / Mir grad’ in’s Angesicht, / Der Hut flog mir vom Kopfe, / Ich wendete mich nicht.
The secret of a great performance of this cycle is surely to build the tension little by little, with peaks of increasing intensity gradually building to that final desolate picture of Der Leiermann, the hurdy-gurdy man, but interspersed with ever-decreasing moments of relief, as in the false dream of Spring, Frühlingstraum, or the 6/8 waltz parody, Täuschung, where the enticing comfort of an ordinary house and its inhabitant - ein helles, warmes Haus, / Und eine liebe Seele drin represents at once deception and gain - Nur Täuschung ist für mich Gewinn!
Schubert even turned to his advantage the fact that he obtained the Müller poems piecemeal and composed Nos. 1-12 before he received the others out of order. Die Post logically belongs much earlier in the sequence - it’s No.6 in Müller’s order - but its placing at No.13 gives its jaunty rhythms what Richard Wigmore’s excellent notes describe as ‘the wanderer’s last, fleeting, contact with the world of cheerful, robust normality’ and Finley and Drake strike exactly the right tone.
In Die Krähe as sung here tenderness is mixed with hopeless melancholy: the crow, companion and predator as Richard Wigmore puts it, is both a wonder of Nature - wunderliches Tier - and a harbinger of the wanderer’s death: Krähe, laß mich endlich sehn / Treue bis zum Grabe!
Yet even the crow deserts him. The real test comes with the intense final song, Der Leiermann. The singer must conjure a picture of utter pointlessness and desolation: unlike Wordsworth’s Old Cumberland Beggar, whose presence brings out the best feelings in all who see him, no-one spares the old man so much as the odd copper or even listens to his songs -Und sein kleiner Teller / Bleibt ihm immer leer. / Keiner mag ihn hören, / Keiner sieht ihn an - yet the wanderer feels an odd attraction to join him. Both of these aspects are as well captured on the new recording as on any that I know.
I started out with high expectations of this recording and I was not disappointed. Finley and Drake have two well-received recordings of Schumann under their belt - Dichterliebe CDA67676 and Liederkreis, CDA67944 - review and review - and Gerald Finley made the major contribution to one of the volumes of the Hyperion Schubert Lieder edition, CDJ33036. Julius Drake’s accompaniment of Alice Coote in a Wigmore Hall recording of Die Winterreise gained the approval of Göran Forsling - review - and, with some reservations, of Anne Ozorio on the night - Seen and Heard review. GF speaks of Drake shadowing Coote faithfully and the same is true of his contribution here.
Simon Thompson thought that the recording balance over-favoured Finley’s voice on CDA67944 but that’s not a problem on the new recording. I listened to the 24-bit and mp3 downloads and both are very good, with a clear advantage to the former. The CD and the 16-bit download fall between those two.
I’ve quoted Richard Wigmore’s excellent notes; as usual with Hyperion the booklet of notes, texts and translations is one of the main reasons to buy this recording.
As I was about to close this review, another new recording appeared, from Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch (Sony 888837956321, UK, or 886444231572, US). My first impressions are that Kaufmann brings out the tender moments as effectively as any singer that I’ve heard but he tends to accentuate the contrast between the more reflective and more dramatic moments by blasting out the latter too forcefully, his voice rising almost to a shout. I guess the bottom line is that you either think Kaufmann’s voice ‘remarkable, an instrument of heft and power which he nevertheless deploys with ultimate artistry’ - Simon Thompson on 4781463, a Recording of the Month: review - or prone to overdo things. Subscribers to the invaluable Naxos Music Library can check it out there for themselves. You can sample the Hyperion recording from their website or obtain Auf der Flusse via their free monthly sampler HYP201403. I thought Kaufmann somewhat over the top until I came to Der Leiermann, of which he gives as heartfelt an account as any that I have heard.
I recently posed an impossible question which of two recent recordings of Schubert lieder to buy - Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles on Hyperion CDA68010 or Matthias Goerne with Helmut Deutsch and Eric Schneider on Harmonia Mundi HMC902109/10. Die Winterreise is the apogee of all Schubert’s lieder and, indeed, of all song settings, so now I have an even more difficult choice to make, which I’m going to duck by suggesting that one of the Fischer-Dieskau recordings is essential - it may as well be the complete three-cycle collection while you’re about it - supplemented with one of the excellent newer recordings, of which the new Finley and Drake is as good as any. If you can afford them all, it will be money well spent.
Previous review: John Quinn (February 2014 Recording of the Month)
Masterwork Index: Winterreise