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Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Die Winterreise D.911 (1827)
Hans Hotter (baritone); Michael Raucheisen (piano)
rec. November 1942. ADD
Texts and English translations enclosed
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1061 [75:50]
Experience Classicsonline

For most lieder aficionados two names are indelibly associated with Winterreise: Hotter and Fischer-Dieskau. The latter made at least eight studio recordings of the cycle. My personal favourite is his DG recording with Gerald Moore. This was part of the mammoth issue at the beginning of the 1970s of all the Schubert songs suitable for male voice. Hans Hotter’s international career was hampered by WW2. He was active to a great extent before the advent of the LP record and recorded the cycle three times. His EMI set from 1955 with Gerald Moore is generally regarded as one of the greatest of all lieder recordings. He also did it for Deutsche Grammophon, first in 1942 – the present issue – and in 1961 with Erich Werba. This last set, of which I have heard only isolated excerpts, has the same deep understanding of the text and the deep identification of the predicament of the narrator. However by then Hotter was past 50 and his many heavy Wagner roles had started to take their toll. The tone is hollower and sustained notes tend to be wobbly. It is still possible to listen through the vocal deficiencies and the outcome is one of the most satisfying reading of the songs. That said, for a more complete interpretation the Moore set is vastly to be preferred – unless one goes for his earliest effort.
Even in 1955 he had lost something of that smoothness of tone - a beauty that one doesn’t easily connect with Hans Hotter. Warmth he radiates aplenty, but as far as sheer beauty goes it is of the ugly-in-a-handsome-way kind. Back in 1942 one reacts over and over again to the lightness and beauty; at times he sounds uncannily like Fischer-Dieskau – and there can be no higher praise. His enunciation is beyond reproach. His way with words was always his hallmark and he always gives the impression that the singing comes from within - as the only natural way of expressing the composer’s ideas.
Basically his concept is very similar to the 1955 version though possibly a mite more spontaneous. He had probably been singing the cycle for years before he set it down. Every now and then I have a feeling that he is still discovering things and wants to savour certain moments. Gute Nacht, very slow, almost hesitant, is a fine example and that hesitation – which is more an expressive device than any kind of uncertainty – can be heard elsewhere too, not least in the achingly beautiful reading of Das Wirtshaus. Generally speaking he opts for slower tempos in the earlier songs in 1942 whereas in 1955 some of the later songs are more expansive. It took me some time to adjust to some of these slow speeds, especially since I had recently listened to Peter Anders’ recording from 1948 on an old Acanta LP. This version, which I hadn’t listened to for many years, has many virtues. It is fairly swift, more outgoing and there is a feeling of relentlessness, impatience even, and being sung by a tenor it is brighter and reflecting a young man’s journey. I can’t help feeling that it is quite refreshing sometimes, though Hotter and F-D peer deeper.

Among earlier versions of the cycle Gerhard Hüsch should also be mentioned. His was, as far as I know, the first complete Winterreise, recorded almost ten years before Hotter’s. This was my first version, recorded on a rather primitive reel-to-reel tape recorder from a radio broadcast in the mid-1960s. I played it numerous times until the tape started to show signs of ageing. As was common at the time his was a rather straightforward approach to the songs with excellent enunciation and beautiful tone taking precedence over the more interventionist way of characterizing that later generations of singers have employed. Hotter in 1942 is marginally closer to this approach than he was a good decade later.

To show the development of lieder singing during the last 75 years – good or bad – it is instructive to have the singers mentioned here, as well as some of the best from a later generation. Among my favourites are Olaf Bär – the three Schubert cycles recently issued at budget price – Tom Krause on a Finlandia recording, full of insight, marred by too close recording of the piano, and Matthias Goerne’s deeply satisfying contribution to Hyperion’s complete Schubert Edition, not to forget Brigitte Fassbaender’s EMI recording. Most readers will, I am sure, have their own favourites but there is always room for alternative readings and Hans Hotter in 1942 will no doubt belong in a select company of Desert Island recordings of this cycle. His accompanist is the ever-reliable Michael Raucheisen, who has been one of the most important champions of German lieder. The sound is fully acceptable and those who know Hotter primarily from his late Wagner recordings will be surprised to find so much lyrical beauty from this monumental voice.
Göran Forsling


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