Schubert: Winterreise

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Winterreise
PERFORMER: Peter Schreier (tenor), András Schiff (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 436 122-2 DDD
It made Schubert himself shudder, this last great song cycle of 1827; and it scared the wits out of that first audience to whom the composer himself sang Winterreise ‘in a voice wrought with emotion’. To this day, only the greatest performances can re-create both the anguish of the rejected lover as all nature reflects his numb grief and anger, and the cycle’s wider vision: that of the wanderer through life, travelling on a road from which there is no return, and yet which is also, as the final Hurdy-Gurdy Man song makes clear, an endless circle.

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Peter Schreier has been cautious about committing it to disc: he did it once in 1985, after long work with Richter, and now, again, after many recital performances with Schiff. Schreier’s own journey is one of ever-deepening, constantly refining insights. He is the Gielgud of the recital stage: every performance is a poetry reading, and this one distils a lifetime of responses to Schubert.

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The raw nerves of the poetry and its setting are laid bare. Long vowels carry yelps of pain high in his tenor register; short ones sting with the lacerations of anger. Schreier is not afraid of moments of deliberate ugliness, nor Schiff of extremes of tempo and articulation. Yet nothing compromises the essential simplicity and consummate artistry of their joint vision. Hilary Finch