Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Winterreise D911
1. Gute Nacht [5:15]
2. Die Wetterfahne [1:44]
3. Gefrorne Tränen [2:22]
4. Erstarrung [3:20]
5. Der Lindenbaum [4:55]
6. Wasserflut [4:27]
7. Auf dem Flusse [3:25]
8. Rückblick [2:27]
9. Irrlicht [2:59]
10. Rast [3:09]
11. Frühlingstraum [4:20]
12. Einsamkeit [2:43]
13. Die Post [2:25]
14. Der greise Kopf [3:08]
15. Die Krähe [1:58]
16. Letzte Hoffnung [2:22]
17. Im Dorfe [3:18]
18. Der stürmische Morgen [0:55]
19. Täuschung [1:34]
20. Der Wegweiser [3:59]
21. Das Wirtshaus [5:06]
22. Mut! [1:25]
23. Die Nebensonnen [3:03]
24. Der Leiermann [4:16]
Nikolay Borchev (baritone), Friedrich Suckel (piano)
rec. live, 27 March 2010, Residenzschloss Fürstengalerie, Dresden
Texts and English translations enclosed
TROUBADISC TRO-CD 01439 [74:48]

Belarusian baritone Nikolay Borchev has rapidly risen to the front rank of singers. Having studied with Pavel Lisitian and Julia Varady and winning prizes in some important competitions he has since 2003 been a member of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. He has also appeared in other houses both within Germany and elsewhere. In January 2012 he is due to make his debut at Covent Garden as Guglielmo in Così fan tutte and later the same year he will bow at the Opéra Comique in Paris. His discography is already quite substantial. I discovered his capacity a few years ago on a Naxos disc with cantatas by Simon Mayr (review) and his impressive Masetto in René Jacobs’s award-winning Don Giovanni on Harmonia Mundi (review).

Choosing Winterreise for his solo disc debut exposes him to comparison with all the great names, past and present. I don’t need to list his competitors – it would fill more space than I will need for the review proper – but I can say that quite a few of them have been more successful with the opening song, Gute Nacht. Not that it is a particularly good song and even so experienced a singer as Hermann Prey, when I heard him during the Savonlinna Festival some twenty years ago, was over-emphatic and four-square, more so in fact than Borchev here, who is energetic and rather heavy. The generous acoustic may also be part of the problem. Presumably the concert was recorded in a rather spacious hall. Powerful, full-throated singing also characterizes the next few songs, beautifully executed and not without finer nuances but there is a little too much. When we reach Der Lindenbaum things begin to happen. Here his beauty of tone and youthful exuberance win me over and for each of the following songs he grows and begins to create a character, to show a face; the narrative starts to mean something. He is not a detailed word-painter in the Fischer-Dieskau mould but he has a grasp of the texts and conveys their meaning through his involvement.

Halfway through the cycle, with the trio Frühlingstraum, Einsamkeit and Die Post, which constitute the turning-point of the journey, he is wholly inside and from then on he only goes deeper and deeper into the character. And there are many exquisite details that enhance the reading. Let me just mention three or four: In the last line in Letzte HoffnungWein’ auf meiner Hoffnung Grab (Weep on the grave of my hopes) ‘wein’ is pronounced with the utmost sorrow; Eine Strasse muss ich gehen / die noch keiner ging zurück (I must travel a road / from which no man has ever returned) in Der Wegweiser is marked with deep resignation; Das Wirtshaus is sung with simple restraint, the voice drained of its fullness – but still so beautiful – and with great emphasis on the concluding Nun weiter denn, nur weiter / mein treuer Wanderstab (On, then, press onwards / my trusty staff!).

In Mut! – the last streak of optimism – he is full-voiced and defiant. This wanderer has courage and power in abundance, he seems to tell us. But the piano knows best – and has the last word: a G minor chord! The concluding two songs, Die Nebensonnen and Der Leiermann are truly moving.

The youthfulness and the beauty of his voice are characteristics of this recording that should appeal to many listeners. Older singers like Hotter, Fischer-Dieskau, Bär or Goerne may have peered deeper and quite recently Thomas Bauer delivered a reading that I felt belonged in their company (review). I don’t think Borchev is quite there yet. Maybe in a few years’ time he will, but he is already worth attention from lovers of this eternally fascinating song-cycle.

Göran Forsling

Masterwork Index: Winterreise

Borchev already worthy of the attention of lovers of this eternally fascinating song-cycle.