MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Buy through MusicWeb from £12.00 postage paid World-Wide.

Sale or Return if you do not like it

MusicWeb Purchase button

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Winterreise D.911 (1827)
Christine Schäfer (soprano)
Eric Schneider (piano)
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, November 2003
ONYX 4010 [68:32]
Error processing SSI file

"I will sing a cycle of spine-chilling songs to you. I am curious to see what you think of them. They have taken more out of me than any others I have written. I like these songs more than all the others, and in time you will come to like them too." (quotation taken from the booklet).

Winterreise, Schubert’s great cycle of 24 songs setting the words of Wilhelm Müller was written in two sittings the year before the composer died. The type of voice was not specified but the words imply a man’s winter journey. Given that the music is littered with examples of gender transposition - and not only before Schubert’s time: Pears as the madwoman in Britten’s Curlew River, for example - I was not bothered by this and have considered the recording on its own merits rather than as a curiosity.

According to a website dedicated to the work , Christine Schäfer is not the first female to record it but has no less than eleven predecessors including Lotte Lehmann and Margaret Price in the soprano category. I have not heard any of them but have for comparison excellent recordings by a tenor - Peter Pears, two baritones - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (his 1971 reading with Gerald Moore) and Matthias Goerne, and a bass-baritone - Hans Hotter. Although most of the recordings have been made by baritones, interestingly, it is the high voices – Schäfer and Pears – who sing the music in Schubert’s original keys. Fischer-Dieskau, Goerne and Hotter had to transpose it.

One point I should make early is that the pianist should be no mere accompanist in this music. Fine Schubertians such as Alfred Brendel, Imogen Cooper and Andras Schiff are amongst the pianists who have recorded the work. Here Eric Schneider’s contribution to the interpretation seems to be considerable. In matters of tempi, he takes some freedoms and these artists are generally not inclined to linger – the other versions mentioned all take at least four minutes longer i.e. between 72 and 75 minutes. In terms of phrasing and dynamics, this is highly-characterised playing and there is very much a sense of partnership between singer and pianist.

The general tendency for fast tempi is noticeable right at the very beginning with a very sprightly rendition of Gute Nacht (4:44 when all my other comparison versions are well over five minutes and Hotter takes over six). In this song Schäfer’s voice has a quite magical timbre and brings an unusually positive sense of anticipation about the journey ahead. Die Wetterfane has an indeterminate forecast but in Gefrorne Tränen the spine starts to chill along with the tears. The words "Ei tränen, meine tränen" are delivered with wonderful pianissimo shading. Erstarrung is given with much ambiguity of mood.

The fifth song, Der Lindenbaum is probably the most famous of all, the traveller muses whilst resting under a linden tree. Schäfer achieves a feeling of repose without premature resignation. This is followed by Wasserflut, in which a veritable torrent of emotion is poured out in the last line of each stanza. In Auf dem flusse the waters are still and run deep, the questions at the end are seemingly a matter of life and death. Rückblick looks back in anger as Schäfer and Schneider continue unerringly to find the kernel of each song. Irrlicht has sorrowfulness which belies the title whilst Rast hardly sounds restful but these paradoxes are surely as Schubert intended. Nevertheless the traveller presumably falls asleep for Frühlingstraum follows, initially seeing off Der Lindenbaum in the beauty stakes but this is part dream, part nightmare. Schneider deserves special mention here for the lilt he brings to the lighter passages. With Einsamkeit comes half-time but not before Schäfer has poured out her soul in this expression of loneliness. Take a break here; Schubert did when writing the songs.

Die Post sets us off again, expressing some hope and wearing heart on sleeve. Der greise Kopf has sufficient angst to turn anyone’s hair grey whilst Die Krähe is here no ordinary crow but a raven. In Letzte Hoffnung the traveller’s last hope seems to be no hope. During Im dorfe the pianist is menacing as Schäfer eschews the sleeping village to be rewarded with Der sturmische Morgen. Hope seemingly returns in Täuschung but the traveller ultimately realises it is illusory. Der Wegweiser is a signpost along a road from which no one has ever returned and resignation abounds in Schäfer’s rendition. There is clearly going to be no room at the inn in Das Wirthaus but there is courage aplenty in Mut! In Die Nebensonnen a sense of wonder about the three false suns prevails. Finally, to Der Leiermann – the organ-grinder – what musician wouldn’t want to play his instrument in accompaniment of this voice? Journey’s end and Schäfer inflects every syllable with subtle meaning as time begins to stand still. The very end is as it should be - almost unbearable.

The recording is very natural with voice and piano beautifully balanced. If there is a blot, it is in the presentation. The cardboard case is all white with an embossed title. Thus what you see above is artwork from the booklet. This is attractive enough and provides full texts in German and English but there is no information on the music or artists, just two quotations (one of which is given in full above).

This is a wonderfully sung, passionate reading of Winterreise that will bear comparison with those of any of the illustrious names mentioned above. I first heard it in the middle of heatwave. No matter, it is a Winterreise for all seasons.

"You must hear this version of Schubert’s spine-chilling songs. Listening to it will leave you emotionally drained. Let me know what you think of it on the bulletin board. I like this version more than any other I have heard and, in time, feel sure that it will come to be regarded as a classic."

Patrick C Waller

Visit the ONYX Catalogue


Return to Index

Error processing SSI file