COMPOSERS: Franz Schubert
LABELS: Challenge Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert: ‘Winterreise: The Third Way’
WORKS: Winterreise; plus documentary: ‘Winterreise, The Third Way’
PERFORMER: Christoph Prégardien (tenor), Michael Gees (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CC72595
In 1995, we heard Christoph Prégardien’s Winterreise with Andreas Staier and a fortepiano; now, after 17 years of interpretative evolution, and also performing the work with Michael Gees on a Steinway, Prégardien wished to record it this way as well. For my reactions to their reading of the cycle, see the review of the CD (p72). Whether you find the close-ups of face and fingers distracting or deepen your appreciation of the performance is an entirely personal matter. Suffice it to say that the intense focus and concentration of both performers is confirmed visually. And the four cameramen offer simple, unfussy shots, sometimes framed by the arch of piano lid and microphone stands. For this is no recital with a live audience: it is suffused with the stark clarity and natural daylight of a recording studio in Belgium.
The short bonus documentary is filmed in black and white and reveals, in interview with both musicians, their developing ideas. Prégardien now sees Winterreise as expressing a struggle with destiny. He finds that, far from the cycle being dominated by the presence of death, the extraordinary energy of the last songs suggests that life continues – in partnership with the hurdy-gurdy man of the final song.
The polarised approaches of the two men spark and create the ‘third way’ of the documentary’s title. Gees feels that Winterreise’s mission is to create music out of suffering and takes an irresistibly improvisational approach, reminding us of how Schubert’s work takes on a life of its own beyond the score.