Schubert: Winterreise (2 CD Review)

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LABELS: Sony/Evil Penguin Records
WORKS: Winterreise


Winterreise (original & arr.for piano trio by Behle)
Daniel Behle (tenor); Oliver Schnyder Trio
Sony 88883788232   125:56 mins (2 discs)

Jan Van Elsacker (tenor),
Tom Beghin (fortepiano)
Evil Penguin Records Classic EPRC0016   65:30 mins

The first of these Winterreise discs offers two versions of Schubert’s great cycle, both performed by German tenor Daniel Behle and pianist Oliver Schnyder, plus, in the arrangement by Behle himself, a violinist and cellist. The new version will obviously attract attention, and perhaps some adverse comment, since it seems unnecessary to add anything to Schubert’s masterpiece, albeit there are several other arrangements. Behle himself argues that, ‘carefully employed, the cello and violin penetrate the emotional world of the traveller. They not only emphasise onomatopoeic features, but also complement and enrich both the vocal line and the piano part’. In fact, these additions are mostly discreet in their doubling of the piano writing, though more intrusive when summoning up ‘special effects’. In both versions, Behle’s musically scrupulous interpretation is appealing, even if his tone coarsens under pressure. Schnyder, meanwhile, provides controlled and sensitive accompaniments.

Early-music specialists tenor Jan van Elsacker and fortepianist Tom Beghin join forces for another unusual version of Schubert’s cycle, made notable by the instrument Beghin plays: a restored piano made by the Viennese maker Gottlieb Hafner around 1830, thus close to Schubert both in date and location. It’s certainly an instrument of considerable character, which comes over well in this recording, even if it tends to favour the voice.

Part of the character of the instrument derives from its no fewer than five pedals, which add to the usual sustaining and una corda pedals devices for sounding bells and drums, emulating a bassoon, and a ‘moderator’, which slips a piece of felt in between the hammers and the strings. Beghin makes subtle use of these, while his playing offers a considerable range of dynamics. Van Elsacker’s vibrato-less voice, however, possesses a smaller range of colour than one is used to in this highly expressive work.


George Hall