Schubert: Winterreise

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Winterreise
PERFORMER: Ian Bostridge (tenor), Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 5 57790 2
The journey into Schubert’s icy landscape starts promisingly: a perfectly judged walking pace, luminous, singing piano tone, Ian Bostridge shaping his falling lines with regretful tenderness. Then, in verse 3, the jilted lover erupts in self-deriding bitterness, with a quiet sneer at ‘Die Liebe liebt das Wandern’ – ‘Love loves to rove’ – before the turn to the major prompts an aching half-voice. This acuteness of colour and detail is characteristic of the performance of both artists who, more than most, highlight the mordant, ironic self-awareness that undercuts the wanderer’s despair. The opening of ‘Frühlingstraum’, for instance, taking its cue from the piano’s staccato triplets in Schubert’s original manuscript, sounds wry rather than nostalgic, while the major-key central section of ‘Rückblick’, where most singers look back with rueful fondness, here suggests mingled panic and self-mockery. Reservations creep in with Bostridge’s use of a confiding, half-spoken tone – virtually Sprechgesang – in several songs. In ‘Der Lindenbaum’ I want to hear the beautiful quasi-folk melody sung with a true legato. ‘Auf dem Flusse’ and the opening of ‘Im Dorfe’ are other instances where song comes close to speech. The effect can seem self-conscious, almost like a lesson in enunciation. Against this are many phrases and whole songs that linger in the memory: the numb desolation of ‘Einsamkeit’, the sinister, silvery beauty of ‘Die Krähe’ (with Schubert’s limpid textures enhanced by the original high key), the heartbreaking ‘Bin matt zum Niedersinken’ (‘I am tired enough to drop’) in ‘Das Wirtshaus’, and the extremes of resigned, elegiac pathos and flaring protest in ‘Die Nebensonnen’. Among tenors, both Peter Schreier and András Schiff, and Christoph Prégardien, with Andreas Staier drawing revelatory sonorities from an early 19th-century fortepiano, would still get my vote, for their probing characterisation (Schreier uniquely raw and bleak) allied to a scrupulous singing line. But this individual new interpretation should be heard, and not just by the Bostridge faithful. Richard Wigmore