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Schubert: Winterreise (Benjamin Appl/James Baillieu)

Benjamin Appl (baritone), James Baillieu (piano) (Alpha Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Benjamin Appl (baritone), James Baillieu (piano)
Alpha Classics ALPHA 854   69:19 mins


If the protagonist of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin had somehow sidestepped his watery fate only to be rejected for a second time some ten years later, might Winterreise be the offspring? Both cycles deal with rejection but the latter more philosophically; and Benjamin Appl’s traveller is perhaps resigned rather than bitter, less inclined to wallow, intent on understanding. And in the concluding ‘Der Leiermann’ – sung with artful simplicity and humanity – there’s the sense of a turning point. As Appl has it in the liner notes: ‘the prospect of community’.

Winterreise is an unending journey of discovery. Appl’s mentor Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recorded it nearly a dozen times, and some of his approach to lieder is apparent in Appl’s probing of each word, each colour. Lacking, mercifully, is Fischer-Dieskau’s later predisposition towards mannered, sometimes histrionic declamation. Indeed, Appl keeps his powder dry, carefully husbanding climaxes for when their impact is most potent. The tone is generally confiding, the voice raised only in moments of deepest anguish. Both ‘Die Post’ and ‘Der greise Kopf’ are object lessons in sophisticated nuance; ‘Der Wegweiser’ is exquisitely layered; and the veiled opening of ‘Die Krähe’ speaks to a profound ambiguity, as if Appl is frightened of scaring away his possibly menacing overhead companion. Insight for insight Appl is more than matched by his pianist James Baillieu, a storyteller to his staccato-cherishing fingertips. The recording keeps the piano very ‘present’ in the partnership. But then partnership is the point. In their mutually enriching symbiosis Schubert’s journey emerges thoughtful and newly-minted.

Paul Riley

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