Wolfgang Holzmair is one of the most sensitive of present-day Lieder singers, though he seems to have a smaller reputation than he deserves. In the 1990s, he made a series of recordings accompanied by Imogen Cooper, which are almost too beautiful. His voice is so soft-grained that to convey the anguish of unrequited love, the chief topic of German song, he has to resort to something close to yelping. His previous recording of Winterreise, the absolute pinnacle of Lieder, was made in 1994. It was exquisite, which isn’t quite the point of this 70-minute journey into a self-awareness indistinguishable from madness. Surprisingly, 18 years later, his voice is still very much in the condition it was, but has rough edges and a tendency to distort vowels, which it didn’t have back then.
If anything, however, Holzmair and his new accompanist, the great Andreas Haefliger, are even less ‘interventionist’ than he was with Cooper. If there were such a thing as a standard reading of Winterreise, this would be it. In a time when too many singers sound as if they wish they were Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, that is welcome, but there is too little sense of a progression from the mere misery of rejection to the acceptance of utter solitude; it needs more edge, more explicit pain.