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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Winterreise, D911 (1827) [68:56]
Gute Nacht [5:25]*
Gerhard Hüsch (baritone)
Hans Udo Müller (piano)
Manfred Gurlitt (piano)*
rec. 1933, 1952*
OPUS KURA OPK2083 [74:18]

This famous Winterreise holds the distinction of being the first complete cycle to be recorded. Gerhard Hüsch was thirty-two at the time and at his peak. It was made at the instigation of Walter Legge on the back of a Berlin concert performance. The original sessions took place in London over three days in April 1933 at which all twenty-four songs were set down. Unfortunately, thirteen did not meet with the producer’s or artist’s approval and, due to logistical reasons, had to be re-made at the Electrola Studios in Berlin later that summer. It was finally released as a large album of three 10” and six 12” 78s, and was an immediate success. Numerous reissues have appeared over the years, and on silver disc Pearl, Preiser and Pristine Audio have all been in on the act. I have to confess that I’ve never heard any of these alternative transfers to compare with this one.

Hüsch was born in Hanover in 1901 and made his debut as a lyric baritone in 1923. From 1930-1944 he was a member of the Berlin State Opera and Hans Udo Müller, who was only twenty-nine at the time of this recording, was a conductor with the very same company. The pair’s close professional collaboration ended when Müller was killed in a Berlin air raid in 1943. After the war, Hüsch devoted much of his time to teaching. He was more successful in lieder than in opera, though he is well-known as a distinguished Papageno in Sir Thomas Beecham’s Die Zauberflöte, recorded in Berlin in 1938. His lieder repertoire focused on Schubert, Schumann and Wolf, and he occasionally turned his hand to contemporary composers, such as Hans Pfitzner, Paul Graener and the Finnish Yrjö Kilpinen. As well as Winterreise he recorded Die schöne Müllerin, and made a substantial contribution to the Hugo Wolf Society project. He died in Munich in 1984.

The opening Gute Nacht illustrates the distinctive qualities which make this recording so compelling. Hüsch’s honeyed tone and beautifully enunciated diction are strikingly alluring. Throughout the cycle he is sensitively attuned to dynamic variants. In Die Wetterfahne which follows, phrasing is natural and instinctive. This expressive phrasing makes its mark in Der Lindenbaum and Frühlingstraum, well-served with ardent tenderness. Erstarrung sounds a little tame, with the problem seeming to lie with Müller, who fails to inject enough passion into his playing. Der stürmische Morgen, later in the cycle, fares much better, and is dispatched with energy, vigour and less constraint. By contrast, Das Wirthaus is sung with a pervading sense of serenity and resignation. Mut is rhythmically virile, and if it’s heartfelt sincerity you want, try Die Nebensonnen — it doesn’t get much better than this. The world-weary mood of the final song Der Leiermann is truly captured. Gute Nacht from 1952 with Manfred Gurlitt is more sedately paced than the earlier version, but there’s no doubting that Hüsch, even at this late stage in his career, commands an attractive bloom to his voice.

Opus Kura's non-interventionist re-mastering I find very agreeable, and feel I am listening to mint 78s, such is the freshness of the sound quality. Booklet notes are in Japanese and English, and full German texts are supplied but with Japanese translation only.

This is a valuable and exceptionally appealing recorded document – a must for vocal enthusiasts.

Stephen Greenbank
 


 

 



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