Schubert: Winterreise

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Winterreise
PERFORMER: Dietrich Henschel (baritone), Irwin Gage (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-82273-2
Dietrich Henschel’s Winterreise is well sung by any standard. He has an attractive, flexible baritone, with a fine mezza voce; his native German is, inevitably, flawless, and his diction precise. And in Irwin Gage, he has an exceptional pianist.

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But Winterreise is about more than beautiful singing and an expertly modulated voice. And with well over 40 versions in the catalogue – many of them outstanding – the competition is intense. Criticism is only ever subjective, so it’s impossible to nominate one as definitive – but, for me, Matthias Goerne and Graham Johnson’s shattering account, recorded in 1996 as part of Hyperion’s complete Schubert Edition, was the one to knock Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore (DG) from the pedestal.

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The difference between Goerne’s Winterreise (or Bostridge’s, or Prégardien’s, or Fischer-Dieskau’s, for that matter), and Henschel’s, is in the devastating way he dramatises the songs, communicating the existential bleakness of Wilhelm Müller’s grimly atmospheric poems, and the traveller’s descent into despair. For all his evident sensitivity, Henschel relates rather than inhabits them, and though his phrasing and musicianship are impeccable, especially in faster-tempo songs, the opening ‘Gute Nacht’, ‘Rückblick’ and ‘Die Post’, and the haunting, angst-ridden ‘Der Wegweiser’, there is neither sufficient chill nor desolation in his account, nor any real sense of a journey either through the winter landscape or into insanity. But Gage’s account of the piano part is immaculate, superbly inflected and considered, its telling rhythms subtly revealing the traveller’s disintegrating state of mind. Claire Wrathall