Schubert: Schubert: Winterreise

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LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
WORKS: Schubert: Winterreise
PERFORMER: Christopher Maltman (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano)

I am in two minds about this live recording of Winterreise. Had I been at the Wigmore Hall I would have been shattered. Listening at home, the extremes to which it often goes leave me sometimes resentful, sometimes stirred. When the same team did Die schöne Müllerin I found it overwhelming – it was so inward. The effect here, by contrast, is sometimes melodramatic. Graham Johnson sets the tone by producing an accompaniment unlike any I have heard before, from him or anyone else.
There are long unnotated silences and odd passages of staccato playing, sometimes in the left hand, sometimes in both; troublingly, Maltman goes along with them, producing lines so disrupted that it sounds as if he is dictating the score. The dynamic range is immense, from arresting pianissimos to something that amounts to shouting.
So much is written into this most agonising of all musical works that underlining every point, and adding quite a few insights of their own, these wonderful interpreters tend to defeat their own ends. Undoubtedly, Brigitte Fassbaender and Aribert Reimann are even more extreme. Yet, to me, they carry absolute conviction, and this new account, so striking in many ways, does not. Michael Tanner