Schubert: Winterreise (arr. Josef)

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Winterreise (arr. Josef)
PERFORMER: Christian Elsner (tenor); Henschel Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 999 877-2
Only the cloth-eared or arrogant could fail to learn something about Schubert’s Winterreise from every single new response to it – however startling and idiosyncratic. And, in recent years, that has included Hans Zender’s neo-expressionist recomposition for ensemble, as well as stagings, and a televised dramatisation. Now for Winterreise as chamber music.

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The idea for a voice and string quartet arrangement of Winterreise came from tenor Christian Elsner, who here performs Jens Josef’s version with the Henschel Quartet. Listen out for the polarisation of high violins and low, gusting cello in ‘Erstarrung’; for the spookily muted and benumbed ‘Rast’; for the racing pizzicato pulse of ‘Die Post’. But these, alas, are only superficial effects in what is at best a cautiously unimaginative and, at worst, a sadly misguided realisation.

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The busking pizzicato quite thaws the chill of ‘Auf dem Flusse’. And the piano’s percussive accents and sforzandi, crucial to the nerve system of the cycle, are smoothed out in the homogenising legato of the strings’ sustaining resonance. Above all, the sheer tension and flexibility of one-to-one chemistry, unsurpassed between voice and piano (as Schubert well knew), is replaced by an inevitably over-amiable, generalised elegy of a performance. Hilary Finch