> SCHUBERT Winterreise Bastin ADW7406 []: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb International

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Winterreise D911

Jules Bastin (bass)
Ursula Kneihs (piano)
Rec. Abbaye de Stavalot, France 1978

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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 wholly true.

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

Note received

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 in Walloon).
Reginald Ricquier


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