Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin; Winterreise

COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: Die schöne Müllerin; Winterreise
PERFORMER: Josef Protschka (tenor), Mitsuko Shirai (mezzo-soprano), Helmut Deutsch, Hartmut Höll (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 49 077 7
Capriccio’s Schubert Edition – celebrating the composer’s forthcoming 200th birthday – offers a fascinating and affectionate Schubert portrait with a programme of familiar masterpieces and lesser-known repertoire. Live performances by Sándor Végh and the Salzburg Mozarteum vividly portray the evolution of Schubert’s symphonic style. They revel in the carefree spirit of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies; while powerfully built climaxes in the ‘Unfinished’ and ‘Great’ C major Symphonies dramatically evoke Schubert’s more sombre moods. By contrast, the Budapest Strings present the composer’s popular image with a polished concert of dance music, redolent with the fragrance of Biedermeier Vienna.

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Schubert first became aware of his fatal illness in 1823, and the Linos Ensemble’s exquisite balance and ideal speeds in the Octet (composed in early 1824) arrestingly express the composer’s psychological recuperation. I would have preferred more warmth in the Tatrai’s direct, albeit sensitive, highly disciplined account of the C major Quintet. Nevertheless, the Odeon’s performances of the two piano trios are exceptional, effectively conveying the first trio’s sparkle and verve and the second one’s dynamic opposition of vital energy and gloomy foreboding.

The version of Die schöne Müllerin under consideration here was highly praised, when it first appeared in 1987, for the eloquence of Protschka’s sweet tone and Deutsch’s apt accompaniment. These musicians give an absorbing interpretation of the youth’s experience from buoyant optimism in ‘Das Wandern’ and compulsive restlessness in ‘Ungeduld’ to burning jealousy in ‘Eifersucht und Stolz’, disillusionment in ‘Trockne Blumen’ and ultimate resignation in ‘Des Baches Wiegenlied’. Likewise, atmospherically dark vocal shades and revelatory piano playing from Shirai and Höll present a gripping illustration of Winterreise’s alarmingly bleak images. Witness their chilling depiction of the wintry landscape in ‘Gefrorne Tränen’ and ‘Auf dem Flusse’ or the wanderer’s profound wretchedness in ‘Einsamkeit’ and ‘Der Leiermann’.

Endres’s natural sympathy for Schubert’s lyrical voice is comprehensively displayed in persuasive accounts of the sonatas D537, D568 and D840. Moreover, his playing in the late A major and B flat Sonatas – winningly opposing the music’s serene tranquillity and its violent, defiant gestures – is one of the high points in this series.

Beside excellent performances of the G major, C major and E flat Masses, Magdaléna Hajóssyová’s pure-toned soprano solos in the two brilliant Offertories, D136 and D223 (recalling Schubert’s first love Therese Grob, for whom they were originally intended) are particularly enchanting. A delightful selection of music for men’s chorus, which stirs feelings of brotherly camaraderie native to Schubert’s character, and excerpts from Peter Härtling’s fanciful Schubert biography, narrated by the author illustrated with shorter pieces, complete the package.

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This superbly recorded, intelligently compiled Schubert collection – engagingly revealing the composer’s complex musical personality – makes a highly desirable anniversary edition. Nicholas Rast