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Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
Winterreise, D 911 (1827)
see end of review for track listing
Alice Coote (mezzo), Julius Drake (piano)
rec. Live, Wigmore Hall, London, 26, 28 January 2012
Texts with English translations enclosed
WIGMORE HALL LIVE WHLIVE0057 [78:47]

Since his debut in 1981 Julius Drake has grown to become one of the most sought after accompanists in the world and his discography is long and impressive. I remember hearing him at Wigmore Hall (as here), accompanying the legendary tenor Hugues Cuénod who gave a full-length recital to celebrate his 86th birthday. He was a new name to me then but I knew instinctively that I would be able to hear him many times in the future - at least on record. Here he follows Alice Coote like a shadow, finding appropriate colours to underline her interpretation.
 
The first four songs launch her view on this ever-fascinating cycle: nervous, eager, youthful. Then in Der Lindenbaum she calms down to the most delicious sincerity. I don’t believe I have ever heard it more beautifully sung. The cold winds blow just as chillingly as ever but she soon regains her reflective mood: Many hours have passed since I left that place.  
Wasserflut is as inwardly private as any reading I have heard and that also goes for Auf dem Flusse. The chill, the unease is there in her reading, but the biggest emotions are calmed down, or masked, but behind the small gestures one imagines a big black hole in the traveller’s soul. Drake provides the undercurrent.
 
Listen to Rückblick, the almost Erlkönig-like frenzy in the accompaniment and then Alice Coote sings Wie anders hast du mich empfangen with beautiful simplicity. And hear how in Irrlicht the will-o’-the-wisp flutters in the piano and how Alice Coote in the last stanza darkens the timbre - for a moment only - only to finish the song with the loveliest singing imaginable. Rast is also a masterly reading with myriads of nuances, Frühlingstraum masterly too, deeply felt and Einsamkeit depicting loneliness so graphically.
 
The second half of the cycle opens with the initially optimistic Die Post. The mood changes drastically: Die Post bringt keinen Brief für dich, and the galloping accompaniment underpins the loneliness, the emptiness.
 
The rest of the cycle is a nightmarish walk towards the unavoidable, but it is far from finished yet. Wie weit noch bis zur Bahre! (How far still to the grave) she sings in Der greise Kopf, but adds Vom Abendrot zum Morgenlicht / Ward mancher Kopf zum Greise. / Wer glaubt’s? Und meiner ward es nicht / Auf dieser ganzen Reise! (Between dusk and dawn / Many a head has turned grey / Yet mine, would you believe it, has not / Throughout this whole journey!) As it darkens along the road the songs become ever more beautiful and gripping and Alice Coote and Julius Drake convey both aspects. The wanderer is left alone. A crow has followed her but also disappears. She reaches a graveyard and contemplates it as a resting-point for the night. But all the rooms are taken in this inn. The bitterness in the singer’s voice becomes ever more tangible. Die Nebensonnen marks the definitive farewell from reality, the most gripping of all the songs. When she meets the organ-grinder she is already on her way to the other side.

Together Alice Coote and Julius Drake have guided us with deep empathy and musical good taste along this emotional wandering and left longstanding imprint in at least one listener. Judging from the ovations in Wigmore Hall, that was the effect on the audience that night too. After the last chord in Winterreise I want complete silence for at least ten seconds. An enthusiastic audience naturally want to show the artists how much they were appreciated - and who can resist joining in? For domestic listening I would have liked the producer to edit out the applause before putting the finished disc on the market. It comes as a blow right in solar plexus after such an intense rendition of the song cycle. This is, however, the only blemish and though I will still cherish Brigitte Fassbaender and Natalie Stutzmann in this repertoire, Alice Coote will be added to that duo in my affection.
 
Göran Forsling 

Masterwork Index: Winterreise

Track listing
1. Gute Nacht [5:15]
2. Die Wetterfahne [1:51]
3. Gefrorne Tränen [2:23]
4. Erstarrung [2:56]
5. Der Lindenbaum [5:20]
6. Wasserflut [4:12]
7. Auf dem Flusse [3:55]
8. Rückblick [2:19]
9. Irrlicht [2:41]
10. Rast [3:39]
11. Frühlingstraum [4:40]
12. Einsamkeit [3:05]
13. Die Post [2:15]
14. Der greise Kopf [3:25]
15. Die Krähe [1:55]
16. Letzte Hoffnung [2:20]
17. Im Dorfe [3:42]
18. Der stürmische Morgen [0:48]
19. Täuschung [1:17]
20. Der Wegweiser [4:51]
21. Das Wirtshaus [4:45]
22. Mut! [1:20]
23. Die Nebensonnen [3:25]
24. Der Leiermann [5:06]