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.
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.
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