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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die Schöne Müllerin (1828)
Gerhard Hüsch (baritone)
Hanns Udo Müller (piano)
original recording 1934. ADD

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Winterreise (1827)
Gerhard Hüsch (baritone)
Hanns Udo Müller (piano)
original recording January 1933. ADD



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This year weíve seen the release of two of the most innovative performances of the two great Schubert cycles: The Winterreise of Goerne and Brendel and the Die Schöne Müllerin of Bostridge and Uchida. Both set benchmarks, for they are performances of exceptional insight and understanding. Just as Fischer-Dieskau and Hotter shaped wonderful versions for their times, Goerne and Bostridge show how meaningful and relevant Schubert still is for our times. Such is the living nature of creative art. It is a great idea, then, to reissue these performances by Gerhard Hüsch, a master of his time.

This is a new re-mastering (2005) by Andrew Rose, for Pristine, the re-mastering specialists. Hüsch was the first to record these cycles. Schubert wrote them both for tenor, but they have been performed by many voice types, even Lotte Lehmann and Elena Gerhardt. Hüschís version influenced the vogue for baritone performances, reaching an apotheosis of sorts in Fischer-Dieskau. Lieder has always been a specialist niche, so performers then, even more than now, worked primarily in opera. Song was an aside, good for short term performances, such as live radio broadcasts or recital. Concert programmes tended to mix a variety of material to showcase the singerís range. Penetrative insight was a concept for the avant-garde, such as Berg and Mahler. Emotion did matter, but for general audiences, it wasnít the primary reason they listened.

Appreciating Hüsch means accepting him on his own terms. His voice is gorgeously golden-toned, his modulations precise. In Das Wandern, he differentiates the repeated passages, bringing out their innate musicality. He can switch from a deep, Das Bächlein to a light, quivering lieht sie mich. He delights in the rollicking rhythms of Mein! Yet it is not a technically flawless performance. He has real difficulty adapting to the high timbres of Des Müllers Blumen, for example, at one point sounding quite shrill. Nonetheless, it is a luxury performance,, one to savour as a record of a voice in its prime. The piano part is very recessed: people were listening to the singer, not the song. Hüsch certainly does not eschew dramatics. Indeed, the whole performance is informed by his intuitive understanding of song works on stage. Der Neugierige, for example, is sung with great gravitas, with a slowness that suggests that visual gestures were very much part of his musical persona. It is almost as if the singer is deliberating so we can appreciate the noble moment. Later, he sings, Mein Schatz hatís grün so gern with a calculated mock woefulness that might have been effective live, but comes across today as rather quaint, and then takes the final So! with extreme drama. Itís certainly not an unadorned performance, but one carefully managed by a very experienced singer who understood the values of his time. Still, the experience can be exquisite. The last song, Des Baches Weigenlied is sung with such grace and warmth it could function as a stand alone. The text and context hardly matter, for Hüsch makes it a beautiful lullaby.

Winterreise suits Hüschís vocal colour infinitely .better. He sings even more beautifully. Itís a pleasure to listen to in order to luxuriate in the voice alone. Moreover, it is a cycle about a man who has had more life experience than the millerís lad, and one which Hüsch inhabits more naturally. Heís far more convincing in Winterreise, and far more emotionally attuned. Again, it is by no means a bland or straightforward reading Ė Hüsch was far too intelligent an artist to merely skim the surface. Instead, his interpretation derives from his background in theatre. This is inherently dramatic music and he knows exactly when and how to create an effect. His Stürmische Morgen really is stormy, and his Mut powerfully defiant. Needless to say Der Lindenbaum is lovingly shaped, for its beauty has long made it a popular song on its own, outside the cycle. It is hardly surprising that Hüschís Winterreise was to have such influence. Nonetheless, itís still a version seen from "outside" the character, so to speak. It is very much a narrative of a physical journey. Schubert himself felt that people would not understand the cycle, and his friends were indeed quite shocked. Until quite recently, it was common to perform only the first twelve songs, avoiding the darker complexities of the later ones altogether. Hüschís sturdy performance is thus very much of that tradition, and of the times he lived in. As a man, he didnít question too deeply and took things as they seemed. His friendships with people in Nazi circles led to his support of the Party. Of course, many artists did question and suffered for it, but Hüsch was hardly alone: millions of others were swept up too. The modern emphasis on exploring the cycles from within may upset many. However, these versions are based on careful study of the music and its context. Understanding Hüsch, and his style, helps us appreciate what goes into the creative process.

Anne Ozorio



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