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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Winterreise D911
Gute Nacht; Die Wetterfahne; Gefror'ne Tränen; Erstarrung; Der Lindenbaum; Wasserflut; Auf dem Flusse; Rückblick; Irrlicht; Rast; Frühlingstraum; Einsamkeit; Die Post; Der greise Kopf; Die Krähe; Letzte Hoffnung; Im Dorfe; Der stürmische Morgen; Tauschung; Der Wegwiser; Mut; Die Nebensonnen; Der Leiermann
Thomas Oliemans (baritone); Bert van den Brink (piano)
rec. Doopsgezinde Kerk, Deventer, April 2006

Every singer aspires to a Winterreise. There are literally, hundreds of recordings. For better or worse, any new Winterreise had better have something unique to make it worth checking out. I really don’t know why I picked this one out, because many of the more obscure Winterreises are obscure for a very good reason! But it matters a lot to me to keep up with new, young singers. So I was pleasantly surprised that I quite enjoyed it.

Oliemans is, on the basis of this recording a warm, lyric baritone. It isn’t the ideal choice for a song-cycle as intense as this, but it makes a change from tenors and dark baritones. He’s 29 years old so his voice will change and develop, but for the moment it’s light and honey-hued. He’s worked with Malcolm Martineau, which is another plus. Most young singers focus on opera, where the money is, overlooking the fact that Lieder is a quite different genre. With a voice as gentle as Oliemans, Lieder is a good direction to follow. He takes Erstarrung a little too slowly to keep up the tension, but rounds his vowels nicely: it makes a contrast when the song suddenly bursts into a fiercer mood. His Lindenbaum really does promise "Ruhe". On the other hand, though, this is not a restful cycle. It’s savage, and surprisingly resonant with modern ideas of psychology. It can be a study of alienation, or anger, or even resilience. If Oliemans were less reverential and more impassioned, there’d be more to listen for. In Der Wegweiser, for example, he gets the right phrasing for "Ohne Ruh’ und suche Ruh’" but some singers can spit this out so you can feel the restlessness.

Since he writes his own booklet notes – a good thing in this age when booklet notes are churned out without reference to performance – we can glimpse an idea of what he feels about the cycle. He says he’s intrigued "not so much by what one does find …. as what one doesn’t find there. Who is the mysterious Wanderer? …What is his ultimate fate?" He hears it as a series of "open questions and emotions" facing a solitary individual set against the society which produced him. And indeed, this is true. That’s why the cycle is best performed by singers who’ve confronted the questions even though they don’t have all the answers. It’s a cycle that some don’t even want to approach before they’ve stored up some life experience. I’d like to hear Oliemans try it again in twenty years – his interpretation will be very different then.

Bert van den Brink is a good, steady pianist, who expresses the notes clearly and lucidly. He’s a naturally sympathetic accompanist – it would be good to hear him again with other singers and different repertoire.

What’s also interesting about this recording is that the performers produced and recorded it themselves. That can be a recipe for disaster, but not in this case, I’m pleased to say. This is a clear, straightforward production which would do credit to several other ventures I can think of.

While this is more a recording for those interested in up-and-coming performers than in a major interpretation, it’s good for what it is. There are many better, but quite a few worse. Good luck to this pair!

Anne Ozorio


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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