Zender: Winterreise

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Kairos
WORKS: Winterreise
PERFORMER: Christoph Prégardien (tenor); Klangforum Wien/Sylvain Cambreling
Hans Zender’s ‘composed interpretation’ of Winterreise was a revelation when it was first performed at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, and then appeared on disc soon afterwards in 1995. Zender burst into the sanctum sanctorum of the Lieder repertoire to make a ‘creative transformation’ which, never merely illustrative, never gimmicky, begins to germinate the seeds of musical expressionism which lie only just under the cycle’s icy surface. This reinvention not only offers disturbing and reinvigorating insights into Schubert’s work, but is a deeply serious and virtuoso work of the creative imagination in its own right.


Within the regular framework of the song cycle, and by way of a wonderfully keen-eared orchestration of its piano accompaniment, Zender repeats, fragments and refracts Schubert’s own sound images: the ubiquitous pulse of the footfall, the posthorn, the wheeze of the hurdy-gurdy. They echo and pre-echo, sometimes momentarily dislocated in time and harmonic space, as if resonating from within a disintegrating psyche.


That first vibrant recording by the Ensemble Modern directed by Zender himself (still available on RCA) offered the shock of the new, and remains the five-star version. You simply hear more in it, and more excitingly. The instrumentalists of the Vienna Klangforum under Cambreling are less taut in their pacing and less dynamic in their playing, and the recording is less well-balanced. Christoph Prégardien is a less aggressive protagonist than Hans Peter Blochwitz, his performance more intimate and subtly nuanced. The work, though, is big enough to accommodate both performances, and this new recording is a welcome addition to the catalogue. Hilary Finch