Franz Schubert composed D911, Winter's
Journey, a settings of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller (publ.
1823 and 1824) in 1827. They were published in two instalments,
each of 12 songs in 1828, shortly before the composer's death.
Schubert is widely recognised as a composer
of songs without equal in fertility of melodic invention. In
Winterreise the songs starkly portray the inner turbulence
of a young man rejected by his lover for a more socially acceptable
suitor: he journeys through a winter landscape, tortured by
memories of happier days. In the later poems all hope seems
lost and bitterness takes precedence. The rumour that in the
melancholy of these last songs Schubert had portent of his death
is without foundation. Winterreise is arguably the greatest
song cycle ever composed. It has drawn the greatest lieder singers
to set down their interpretation on record: One of the greatest,
Fischer-Dieskau, recorded it no fewer than seven times! He was
widely recognised as a lieder singer who also sang in opera.
Here, in Jules Bastin, is a singer widely regarded, at least
outside his native Belgium, as foremost an opera singer; not
This Winterreise was recorded
in 1978 at a time when Bastin was at the height of his vocal
powers. His lean, sonorous bass is capable of good upward extension,
fine legato and phrasing, and with a diminuendo on the breath
to die for. But these songs call for much more: expressiveness
and tonal variety are paramount particularly given the competition.
I expect that like many of his compatriots Bastin spoke Flemish,
that should help with the glottal components of the words. Yet
to my ears, whilst not missing the grittiness of some Germanic
singers, I find the smoothness of vocal emission beautiful to
listen to, but only as long as I am not concerned with the moods
and meaning of the words and the aching pathos they often express;
at least when set against the greatest interpretations.
The recording has the voice well forward in
a clear, slightly resonant acoustic. The piano is also well
caught, played by Ursula Kneihs, the sympathetic accompanist.
Fans of Bastin, and others, who simply enjoy
the sound of a good voice in perfect condition, will find this
disc an enjoyable bargain. If you want the ultimate Winterreise
look elsewhere; perhaps to Fischer-Dieskau's fifth recording
with Jörg Demus recently re-issued on the DG 'Originals'
label. The great is the enemy of the merely good.
Robert J Farr
Jules Bastin was born in Bellevaux-Ligneuville,
now part of Malmédy and as such was not a Flemish but
a Walloon i.e. French-speaking. So it was very hard for him
to pronounce Germanic languages, and to feel the 'dramatic'
in the sentences. He would not have understood the words as
Germanic speakers do. Nevertheless the review is fair. He had
a great voice for opera (especiallly in comic roles), but wasn't
a great lied-singer (apart from the songs he recorded for Pavane