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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Winterreise, D.911
see end of review for track listing
Kurt Moll (bass)
Cord Garben (piano)
rec. 18-19 May, 21-25 June 1982, Hamburg. stereo DDD
German, English and French texts.
ORFEO C042 831 A [81:59]

This Everest of song-cycles was originally composed for the tenor voice but has been transposed to be tackled by the whole gamut of vocal tessituras; even lyric sopranos like Christine Schäfer and Barbara Hendricks have followed the example of Lotte Lehmann - a soprano who could sing virtually anything. Thus we also have superb versions by mezzo-sopranos (Brigitte Fassbaender), altos (Natalie Stutzmann), tenors (Julius Patzak and Peter Anders), lyric baritones (Thomas Allen), dramatic baritones (Florian Boesch) and bass-baritones (Hans Hotter and Thomas Quasthoff). That list is far from exhaustive and Schubert Lieder aficionados will note that as a matter of personal taste, I have not included Fischer-Dieskau, although I acknowledge his pre-eminence in this cycle for others.
Thus there is certainly no reason why a lyric basso profondo like Kurt Moll should not have given us his account, especially now that he is secure in his status as one of the greatest basses of the late 20th century. He retired in 2006 and now gives master classes; this recital was recorded over thirty years ago during in his relatively youthful prime in his mid-forties; he went on to sing for another quarter-century, excelling in the “lighter”, more cantabile Wagner roles (Gurnemanz), Richard Strauss (Ochs), Mozart (Sarastro, Il commendatore, Osmin) and even Verdi (Sparafucile). He was, however, equally at home in Lieder and his first recital of a selection of the more philosophical Schubert songs, also accompanied by Cord Garben and recorded again for Orfeo earlier in the same year as this “Winterreise”, is obligatory listening for lovers of this Fach.
His glorious voice is as sleek and smooth as a steel blade sheathed in black velvet; instantly recognisable and almost sui generis - you would never mistake Moll for another singer. His resonant tone gave the impression of size without huge volume, while his superb diction and seamless legato allow him to create drama without percussiveness. Only very occasionally does one sense a slight struggle to keep the big voice sweet and steady.
There is the pertinent question of whether such an instrument is the ideal vehicle to convey the neurotic and solipsistic complaints of the archetypal desperate and disappointed Romantic lover in the Werther mode. A sonorous bass of Moll’s sort is naturally more suited to conveying emotions of nobility, authority and reassurance, but the darkness is apt to the sentiments and the sheer beauty of his sound brings other compensations.
For example, the low G flats on “meinen Augen” and “saugen” in “Wasserflut” resonate with an organ-pipe depth sufficient to give any listener the chills, their profundity perfectly complementary to the sentiments of the song. Then again, take the slow tempo adopted for “Auf dem Flusse”: one of several surprising interpretative touches which permit us to savour the gravelly lower notes contributing to a massive, monumental account somewhat different from the more usual pathetic Jeremiad. Moll’s growl is perfect for conjuring up the aural image of the barking dogs in “Im Dorfe”.
As in the other Schubert Lieder recording, Cord Garben’s pianism is ideally subtle, sensitive and unobtrusive. No devotee of this song-cycle will want to be without this magnificent version.
A full libretto and translations are provided.  

Ralph Moore

Masterwork Index: Winterreise

Track listing
Gute Nacht [5:34]
Die Wetterfahne [1:39]
Gefrorne Tränen [2:50]
Erstarrung [2:43]
Der Lindenbaum [5:14]
Wasserflut [5:04]
Auf dem Flusse [4:46]
Rückblick [2:01]
Irrlicht [3:05]
Rast [3:21]
Frühlingstraum [4:48]
Einsamkeit [2:34]
Die Post [2:35]
Der greise Kopf [3:37]
Die Kräh [2:40]
Letzte Hoffnung [2:52]
Im Dorfe [3:50]
Der stürmische Morgen [0:50]
Tauschung [1:28]
Der Wegweiser [5:14]
Das Wirtshaus [5:14]
Mut [1:24]
Die Nebensonnen [3:03]
Der Leiermann. [4:45]