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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Winterreise, D 911 (1827) [68:35]
Peter Mattei (baritone)
Lars David Nilsson (piano)
rec. 2018, Studio Acusticum, Piteå, Sweden
Sung texts with English translations enclosed.
BIS BIS-2444 SACD [69:07]

Having made his debut at age 25 in La finta giardiniera at the Drottningholm Court Theatre in 1990, Peter Mattei gradually established himself as one of the leading baritones of his generation and has claimed many of the great roles, in 2013 crowned with a sensational Amfortas in Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera, a performance that was relayed in HD to cinemas worldwide. This season he takes on the title role in Wozzeck, a further step in his development. Last year, however, he took a temporary time-out and devoted himself to a series of song recitals, where he performed Schubert’s Winterreise to great acclaim. As a spin-off BIS recorded the cycle, which now has to compete with more than 200 previous sets, most of them with considerable merits. Mattei’s activities in the field of art songs has been limited, at least when it comes to recordings. As far as I know his only previous venture into the genre was a rather early disc – also on BIS – with songs by Wilhelm Stenhammar.

Peter Mattei has always been a very expressive singer in the various roles I have seen him – both vocally – with a rich pallet of colours and nuances – and visually. The latter aspect, which he can convey so graphically across the pit in the opera house, is also discernible here. He sings with a face – or rather several faces. And he does so with the opera singer’s intensity, without killing the songs with too forceful an approach. But he is rather forceful in the opening Gute Nacht. This is no meek farewell to a town that has caused him so many sorrows, but the start of a journey that is a drama in itself – a drama that inexorably leads to the wanderer’s destruction. And it is that feeling of destruction that carries the story forward. Even in the lyrical resting-points – the retrospective Der Lindenbaum and the forward-looking Frühlingstraum – the momentum is omnipresent. The lyrical, folksong quality of the former is certainly not underplayed but Die kalten Winden blasen is churned out with icing chill. Likewise the lyrical parts of the latter are sung with endearing beauty, but the drama thrives in the background. Einsamkeit is imbued with strong emotions – and this reminds us that in days gone by this was the point where singers chose to bring the cycle to an end. The second half was too bleak for the audiences of the day to stomach.

In the second half of the cycle Mattei’s horse however gallops with great vitality in Die Post, while Der greise Kopf starts to realise that the homerun is approaching. Vom Abendrot zum Morgenlicht ward mancher Kopf zum Greise, says the narrator with great warmth – or rather with hushed compassion – although he himself has not yet seen that happen throughout this whole journey. But in Die Krähe the spark of life seems to ebb away. But the wanderer has still powers in reserve, and Der stürmische Morgen is still sung with remaining intensity. Täuschung follows attacca, as though he is eager to continue the story-telling. But though Mut! is a powerhouse of emotions, he is steadily going downhill. Die Nebensonnen, this most gripping of the songs – sung with the utmost sensitivity – finally points to the imminent demise of the poor wanderer, and when he meets the hurdy-gurdy player in the final song he is already on the other side. It only remains to half-whisper the last phrases.

Though Peter Mattei’s reading of Winterreise in many ways belongs to the most powerful, most operatic interpretations, it has a straightforwardness and poetic integrity that places it in the top-layer of available recordings. The recording is SACD, but listening to it in traditional two-channel stereo, I was still able to derive a deeply emotional experience from this disc, where Lars David Nilsson contributes with excellent accompaniments. A truly valuable addition to the Winterreise discography.

Göran Forsling

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