Schubert: Winterreise, D911

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Winterreise, D911
PERFORMER: Thomas Bauer (baritone), Jos van Immerseel (piano)

Thomas Bauer, like other singers before him, has made a real as well as imagined Winter Journey: in his case, in a documentary film in which he and Winterreise make a concert tour on the Trans-Siberian Railway. I haven’t seen it, but it clearly served to get Schubert’s music deep into the singer’s bones and his blood system. This is a performance tingling with nervous energy, with Bauer’s baritone a strong and heroic persona throughout its considerable range.
Bauer’s quick vibrato, and the taut tension in every rhythmic phrase and figure is matched by the clarity and short decay of Jos van Immerseel’s early piano – a modern replica of a Viennese Anton Walter keyboard. I’ve heard more seductive fortepianos; but Immerseel is alert to every rhythmic detail, every second of emphasis -– and to the inner voices within Schubert’s accompaniment. Bauer’s voice, in turn, shakes with anger, and shudders through words like ‘erstorben’ (‘frozen to death’). Weariness, breathlessness and wonder are all embodied within his voice, which is able to sustain the slowest of tempos, as in a ‘Wasserflut’ which lasts nearly five minutes.
There’s tremendous energy in his explosive articulation of the words ‘Gott’ and ‘kein’, as he steps out in the final, desperate bid for courage of ‘Mut!’ – before meeting a ‘Leiermann’ whose hurdy-gurdy reverberates hauntingly in Immerseel’s fingers. Hilary Finch