In a note accompanying this new Winterreise with Jan Van Elsacker, the fortepianist and musicologist Tom Beghin asks what yet another new recording of Schubert’s great song-cycle might offer. The answer, in the first instance, is the instrument Beghin plays, a newly restored Gottlieb Hafner from Vienna c1830, whose five pedals – and attendant effects – Beghin is unafraid to employ.
The title ‘1828’ refers to Schubert’s final and astoundingly productive year, which brought forth the three duets and solo sonata featured on this disc. In Philippe Cassard’s hands, the declamatory dynamism of the D959 A major Sonata’s first-movement exposition takes a back seat, with an emphasis on shapely soft playing that ravishingly comes to roost throughout the movement’s development section. The pianist’s eloquent legato holds attention in the Andantino’s outer sections, yet he downplays the harrowing chromatic climax. He similarly understates the Scherzo’s explosive descending minor scales, yet his delicate, witty arpeggiation of the main theme’s leaping chords delights. While the Rondo gains assurance and momentum as it progresses, I prefer Pollini’s firmer left-hand projection in the explosive central minor episode and the intelligent architecture of his dynamics.
Consummation. This is what the piano music of Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) and Franz Schubert (1979-1828) have in common, the bridge that Thomas Larcher brings to this welcoming solo recital, his first for ECM. To underscore this point, he shuffles Schönberg’s Klavierstücke op. 11 with Schubert’s posthumous Klavierstücke D 946. By turns halting and didactic, the opening pairing opens into the fresh air of Schubert’s precisely syncopated revelry. The contrasts between the two composers are obvious to the ear, but to the heart Schönberg is an extended exhalation to Schubert’s inhalation. Where Schönberg plots slow, jagged caverns, Schubert runs furtively above ground in the sunshine. Yet both seem so urgent to tell their stories, offering lifelong journeys from relatively young minds.
Pentaèdre the wind quintet whose Così: Un opéra muet, a transcription of selections from Così fan tutte, was one of the most delightful albums of 2007 is joined by accordionist Joseph Petric in its release of a chamber version of Winterreise. In this inspired arrangement, the group's oboist Normand Forget expands the colors of a traditional wind quintet by having an oboe d'amore substitute for the oboe, and having the flute, clarinet, and horn double other instruments.
Schubert's Winterreise offers what likely is the darkest, most tormented, aesthetically and emotionally compelling journey in the repertoire of Romantic song-cycles. Any singer who takes it on (most often baritones, but frequently tenors and occasionally a female voice) must make the effort to immerse himself in Wilhelm Müller's poetry and Schubert's magnificently moody, unreservedly honest representation of its darkly human sentiment.
Following their exceptional Winterreise and now this equally fine Die schone Mullerin, tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Paul Lewis may be on their way to cornering the Schubert Lieder franchise for the foreseeable future. Besides being the most lyrically beautiful modern rendition of this oft-recorded cycle, the recording is a model of clear, natural presentation of voice and piano in a very complementary acoustic.
The darkly lit cover photo may convey some of the desolation of Franz Schubert's Schwanengesang, but to appreciate the full range of emotions of this posthumous song cycle – which shift from the hopeful passion of Liebesbotschaft and the giddiness of Frühlingssehnsucht to the heartbreak of Ihr Bild and the horror of Der Doppelgänger – listen to this exceptional Harmonia Mundi release by tenor Mark Padmore and his accompanist, pianist Paul Lewis.