Schubert: Winterreise

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Winterreise
PERFORMER: Thomas Hampson (baritone)Wolfgang Sawallisch (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56445 2
Thomas Hampson releases his Winterreise in the midst of a flurry of outstanding recordings and live performances of Schubert’s last song cycle. With winter journeys by Christoph Prégardien, Matthias Goerne, Ian Bostridge and Robert Holl still leaving deep tracks in the recent memory, expectations run high for each successive performance and recording. Hampson’s curiously bland and uncommitted performance is, alas, simply not in the same league.

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In their underpointed phrasing and inflection, the external tableaux of this Winterreise are superficially described rather than closely fused with the inner turmoil of the wanderer. There is little sense of desperation in a ‘Rückblick’ which seems to be running on the spot; and Hampson seems to care little whether ‘Die Post’ has brought him a letter or not. Just as he fails to exploit the different registers and timbres of the voice, so Wolfgang Sawallisch’s playing is un-interventionist to a fault: neither artist seems capable of inspiring the other.

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Winterreise cannot live by meticulous enunciation and basic dynamic variation alone. Schubert himself sang the score ‘in a voice full of emotion’: Hampson’s lazy imagination and sometimes slack rhythmic sense barely glimpse Schubert’s heart of darkness in a performance which seems to take place very much in the course of a day’s work. Hilary Finch