Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin; Schwanengesang; Winterreise

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: C Major
WORKS: Die schöne Müllerin; Schwanengesang; Winterreise
PERFORMER: Herman Prey (baritone), Leonard Hokanson, Helmut Deutsch (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 700208

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What advantage does a DVD have over a CD when it comes to Lieder recitals? None, I would suggest, in the absence of a live audience. The film of this set of Schubert song cycles has all the ambience of a morgue – and this despite attempts to turn a recording studio into a late 18th-century Viennese interior.

Through its window, nicely frosted for Winterreise, may be glimpsed young green beech leaves, a distant watermill, a snowscape, and the darkness of existential night. But inside, the body language is less eloquent: surrounded by Biedermeier furnishings, Hermann Prey is filmed staring fixedly at the camera, his expression mask-like and virtually unchanging.

Close your eyes, and more vivid life and colour immediately animates the greater part of these performances. By 1986, when Die schöne Müllerin and Schwanengesang were recorded, Prey was past his best vocal prime. But whereas the earlier cycle sounds tired and effortful, Schwanengesang sees Prey summoning all his energy and focus for a performance of visionary insight and concentration.

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Helmut Deutsch takes over from Leonard Hokanson for Winterreise, and immediately the bonding is more rewarding, the pacing revelatory, and the ache of the mortally wounded heart palpable. In every way, the ear is served better than the eye in this set, with its valuable documentary survey of Prey’s career as an interview bonus, and with his own thoughtful three-minute meditations on each cycle. Hilary Finch