During the last few years Thomas Bauer has come up with several highly successful song recordings, notably in the Schubert and Schumann cycles from Naxos. Now he approaches the Everest of the Lieder repertoire, Schubert’s Winterreise. Competition is stiff. Among pre-war recordings Hans Duhan in the 1920s and Gerhard Hüsch in 1933 were pioneers, later Hans Hotter made three recordings, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at least seven and then we have baritones of the calibre of Gerard Souzay, Herrmann Prey, Olaf Bär, Matthias Goerne, Thomas Hampson, Tom Krause and HÅkan HagegÅrd to mention just a few. Where does Thomas Bauer stand in their company?
Well, he is in their company and he compares very favourably with them. His voice has filled out considerably in the lower register and this given him even more dramatic power than before. But his soft and lyrical singing is as lovely as ever. He has gained depth but lost nothing. Both sides of the coin can be heard to good effect in a masterly Lindenbaum. It is followed by s dynamic reading of Wasserflut. Here, as in all the songs, he focuses on the text, his enunciation crisp, the vocal colours rich and varied. In Rast we hear a tired wanderer; Frühlingstraum is painted in bright colours but with a kind of hazy layer: it is a dream only! Einsamkeit is lugubrious and bleak. A streak of light enters in the opening lines of Die Post, but darkness soon returns and the pain is obvious. Sorrow is memorably depicted in Der greise Kopf, loneliness in Der Wegweiser.
The final five songs, certainly the apex of the song-cycle, are as gripping as on any recording or live performance I have heard, with Mut! a last explosion of courage followed by a superb Die Nebensonnen (The phantom suns), where the text says, in the English translation:
I saw three suns in the sky,
I stared at them long and hard;
And they, too, stood staring
As if unwilling to leave me.
Ah, but you are not my suns!
Stare others in the face, then;
Until recently I, too, had three;
Now the best two are gone.
But let the third one go, too!
In the darkness I will fare better.
Few have caught the sorrow and resignation more visually.
With Jos van Immerseel a music partner on the same wavelength, a recorded sound that ranks with the best and an essay by Bauer on the poet Wilhelm Müller’s sufferings during his own Winterreise this is a disc to be snapped up and at once and then savoured during many listening sessions by the CD player. At my own Winterreise sessions I am usually surrounded by Hotter, Fischer-Dieskau, Prey, Krause and Bär. But I have an empty chair. From now on it will be occupied by Thomas Bauer.