Schubert: Winterreise (Harmonia Mundi)
★★★★★ (out of five)
At the 15th song of the Winter’s Journey, a piano melody that seems to come from the nursery turns into a bleak anticipation of death. ‘The crow has come with me…. Flying ceaselessly above my head.’ Anyone listening will know that Franz Schubert will be dead within a year. But Schubert does not know he is going to die. He is thirty years old and feeling a bit low from various ailments, but he has no idea that he is writing his own requiem. Our knowing against his unknowing heightens the paradox of the cycle.
Many singers interpret Winterreise with the composer’s death in mind. The freshness that Mark Padmore brings is highlighted by his gentle, wondering narration of The Crow, a hushed quality that evokes reverence for the natural world without emphasis on mortality. Padmore invites us to step back and see Franz Schubert in the present tense, rather than the past.
Comparisons here are superfluous. Every fine singer on record has his own take on Winterreise. Did I just say his? Brigitte Fassbender’s recording is among the most revealing, an extraordinary take on loneliness in a bleak and frosty landscape. Padmore is more frugal that Fassbender frugal with his vocal colours, reminding us of the ambient whiteness as his wanderer trudges ahead to an unknown destination, our common fate. Kristian Bezuidenhout at the fortepiano is a discreet companion, his instrument less assertive than the big bangers of yore.
This is a very contemporary Winterreise, thoughtful and intensely musical, its beauties so restrained that you are surprised to find tears spilling from your eyes in the closing song, “Der Leiermann”, an open-ended ending that is unmatched in music until Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde”.
LUDWIG VAN TORONTO