Joyce DiDonato (soprano), Yannick Nézet-Séguin (piano)
Erato 9029528414 70:26 mins
Joyce DiDonato isn’t the first mezzo to traverse the Romantically-intensified despair of Schubert’s song cycle swansong. (Schwanengesang, posthumously, was a publisher’s assembly job). Christa Ludwig and Brigitte Fassbaender have both recorded it; and Lotte Lehmann was an early trailblazer. Nor is DiDonato the first to offer a distinctive handle – video embellishment to Hans Zender’s ‘composed interpretation’ with orchestra; Winterreise has long attracted experimentation. DiDonato’s take is to view the cycle from the perspective of the woman whose rejection of her lover sets in train the desolate interior journey. Intriguing but problematic. Not least because there’s pretty much nothing to go on. It’s instructive to read her carefully thought-through elaboration in the booklet; but if DiDonato’s performance often sounds unexpectedly detached, is it because, in keeping with the conceit of the songs being the sometime lover’s diary entries, they’re ultimately ‘recounted’ rather than lived?
Whatever, it’s a mystery because DiDonato is usually the singing actress par excellence. Here, however, inconsistently so. She’s not helped by a recorded balance that prioritises the piano; but her German is serviceable rather than insightful – mouth-filling words such as ‘heulen’ (howl) or trübe (bleak) are under-registered. Some of the measured tempos underline the forensic distancing – ‘Erstarrung’ is sluggish, while ‘Gefror’ne Tränen’ is navigated with pedantic caution. She’s more inclined than Yannick Nézet-Séguin, however, to give ‘Der stürmische Morgen’ its tempestuous head – and his pianism, is, across the cycle, effortful at times.
Perhaps, aided by props, it all worked better on stage? Some affecting moments aside, this, alas, is a work in progress, a ‘journey’ some way off reaching ‘arrival’.