This is a powerful and, in its way, thoroughly convincing
account of Winterreise. Fassbaender is a great artist with an
imposing personality and fine interpretative insight, and when this
recording was made, she was at her vocal height. But what of the argument
that these are exclusively male songs? Is this narrow-minded sexism,
or does it have some truth in it? I personally feel that such objections
should not be dismissed too lightly. Schubert clearly intended them
for the male voice, and the simple musical fact that all the songs are
here sung at least an octave above their normal pitch has obvious implications
for texture and the relationship between the voice and the piano part.
These things have to be borne in mind, and are far from insignificant;
but they certainly do not invalidate Fassbaender’s wonderful readings.
Winterreise is, for me, Schubert’s supreme achievement.
The late instrumental works – the Trout, the Great C major,
the late piano sonatas, for example – loveable though they are,
are characterised either by their ‘heavenly lengths’ or their infuriating
repetitiveness, depending on your point of view, or, perhaps, your mood.
Winterreise, on the other hand, builds inexorably by means of
the intense poetry of the often very tiny songs, several of which are
barely a minute long – boredom or irritation is simply not an option!
Fassbaender is an artist with great stage experience,
and she uses that to full effect, characterising the songs sharply and
often with overwhelming emotional power. She expresses perfectly the
intense pathos of, for example, Das Wirtshaus or Die Nebensonnen,
where hope fades so heart-rendingly, and rises to the defiance of Mut
or Der stürmische Morgen equally well - this is a performance
of great emotional range. My only problem was with a technical aspect
of her voice; the breaks between the different registers are very pronounced,
much more so than with most singers. Listen to the very opening of the
cycle, the great song Gute Nacht, and you will notice how her
voice descends into a chesty lower register at the close of the first
phrase; this happens time and time again, which I found distracting,
particularly in the quieter songs.
What of her accompanist, whose role in this greatest
of all song-cycles is crucial? Reimann is a superb musician, and his
accompaniment is alive with imagination and responsiveness. He contributes
massively to the performance, for example, of Im Dorfe, with
its subterranean rumblings and sudden startled hesitations. On the other
hand, he comes adrift sadly in Die Post, whose galloping rhythms
have been a death-trap for more than one pianist. Reimann is simply
unable to play them at all accurately. Overall, he is very fine, though
I wouldn’t put him quite in the class of either Gerald Moore (for Fischer-Dieskau)
or Benjamin Britten (for Peter Pears).
The disc is a bargain, and musically hugely rewarding.
Its economical price, however, means that you don’t get the texts of
the songs or translations either.