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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Winterreise, D 911, Op. 89
Hermann Prey (baritone), Helmut Deutsch (piano)
rec. live, 17 May 1987, Schwetzingen, Schloss, Rokokotheater
No song texts enclosed
SWR MUSIC SWR19012CD [72:13]

For several decades Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Hermann Prey were the two pre-eminent German Lieder singers. They carried on the tradition from Heinrich Schlusnus, Gerhard Hüsch and Hans Hotter. Hotter was still active when the youngsters arrived. Prey was four years younger than Fischer-Dieskau and for years he was unable to challenge him on his terms. He realized that he had to find his own way of interpreting the Lieder repertoire, for which the two Berlin-born baritones achieved world fame.

Winterreise became both singers’ calling-card and Prey sang the song cycle for 46 years, from 1952 to the last year of his life. The most extended chapter of his memoirs was also dedicated to Winterreise and he writes at the end: “I saw it again and again: Winterreise can shock in a way that is unlike anything else I have experienced on stage.”

Hermann Prey recorded Winterreise several times, and it is interesting to see how consistent his readings were but also how he developed and explored new nuances through the years. It is amusing to read in the liner-notes for this disc Helmut Deutsch’s recollections of his first meeting with Prey. Before their first recital together Deutsch listened repeatedly to Prey’s recording of Winterreise with Leonard Hokanson, then his permanent pianist, and learnt every nuance of Hokanson’s performance. After the recital Prey said, when they were sitting with some friends in a restaurant: “Now let’s drink to Helmut … with whom I felt quite at my ease tonight, even though everything he did was so different from what I am accustomed to!”

Well, Prey’s main concern was tempo, and comparing three recordings of Winterreise made during a 25-year-period, this consistency is very obvious. I don't have the Hokanson recording but I have one with Karl Engel, published in 1962 on EMI Classics, one with Wolfgang Sawallisch, published in 1973 on Philips and the present one, recorded live in 1987 with Helmut Deutsch. Timings for the individual songs differ by a few seconds at the most – even in the longer songs. I first thought that Die Krähe, clocked in at 2:58 on the Sawallisch recording, was a stunning re-think but it turned out to be a misprint on the record-sleeve. The correct timing was 1:58, almost identical with the other two recordings. Das Wirthaus is noticeably slower in 1987: 5:34 against 4:38 in 1962 and 4:42 in 1973. I reacted to this tempo before I checked and compared, but it works well.

It is when we listen to the actual sounds that Prey produces that we sense the passing of time. In 1962 he was just past thirty and his tone was smooth and light and youthful. In 1973 he was in his mid-forties, the tone still youthful and smooth but just a mite darker. In 1987 when approaching sixty, with a career of 35 years behind him, the tone is heavier. In the higher-lying passages there a little more strain is evident and there is not so much polish to smooth over the slight unevenness in his fortes. This is however a small price to pay for a reading that in many ways is even more honest and human than before. His declamation is impeccable, his control over nuance remains intact, his pianissimos are as melting as ever – listen to Die Wetterfahne – and every phrase, every inflection, feels so right. The simplicity that made him such a beloved artist among the masses – not least his TV appearances – serves him well in songs like Der Lindenbaum and Frühlingstraum, sung almost casually. The last five songs, the most luminous jewels in this richly adorned crown, are concentrated and restrained. The concluding Der Leiermann is sung with such artless simplicity and with a crescendo–diminuendo on the last word. It makes for a masterly finale to a masterly reading of this ever fascinating masterwork.

Helmut Deutsch is, as always, a sensitive accompanist and the recording is excellent. There are no signs of an audience present.

The catalogues are filled with excellent recordings of Winterreise and picking one that stands out as the recommended version, is impossible. Hüsch, Hotter, Fischer-Dieskau and Olaf Bär are just the crème de la crème among the numerous recordings that exist. Prey belongs in that select company.

A singer, still in excellent shape and with Winterreise in his bones and marrow over a period of 35 years is always a pleasure to hear. However many recordings of the work you already have this from Prey and Deutsch merits a place in your collection too.

Göran Forsling

Track listing
1. Gute Nacht [5:09]
2. Die Wetterfahne [1:47]
3. Gefrorne Tränen [2:11]
4. Erstarrung [3:22]
5. Der Lindenbaum [4:57]
6. Wasserflut [4:05]
7. Auf dem Flusse [3:27]
8. Rückblick [2:34]
9. Irrlicht [2:50]
10. Rast [2:33]
11. Frühlingstraum [4:10]
12. Einsamkeit [2:30]
13. Die Post [2:35]
14. Der greise Kopf [2:56]
15. Die Krähe [1:50]
16. Letzte Hoffnung [2:27]
17. Im Dorfe [3:05]
18. Der stürmische Morgen [0:53]
19. Täuschung [1:30]
20. Der Wegweiser [3:31]
21. Das Wirtshaus [5:34]
22. Mut [1:22]
23. Die Nebensonnen [2:53]
24. Der Leiermann [3:55]



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