CD review: ‘Schubert: Winterreise’

April 26, 2014 

Jonas Kaufmann’s “Schubert: Winterreise.”

  • Classical

    Jonas Kaufmann

    Schubert: Winterreise

Kaufmann masterful in ‘Winterreise’

For the male classical singer, Franz Schubert’s 1828 song cycle, “Winterreise” (“Winter Journey”) is a tantalizing but elusive prize. Its 24 sections, telling the story of a rejected lover’s torment, demand every skill in a singer’s arsenal. In this 75-minute dramatic monologue, the performer must express minute gradations of emotion (anger, depression, false hope, death wishes), paying close attention to Wilhelm Müller’s poetic texts and the composer’s dynamic markings.

There have been nearly 100 recordings of “Winterreise” over the years. Any new contender must inevitably be compared to the work’s most lauded performer, German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, whose eight commercial recordings set the bar for subtlety and insight.

German singer Jonas Kaufmann, arguably today’s top operatic tenor, enters the field with high marks. The sheer beauty, clarity and size of his voice count for a lot here, along with his astounding range, from mere whisper to thundering cry, all produced without strain or compromise.

Interpretatively, Kaufmann is more extroverted and openly emotional than some. He may not plumb all the work’s introspective depths, but there’s a palpable intensity and an underlying vulnerability that keep the listener engaged. Pianist Helmut Deutsch contributes sensitive, characterful accompaniment, an equal partner.

Sony’s engineers have captured the performance with great presence and balance, the voice close enough for intimate utterances but also allowing for sudden outbursts and sustained vehemence. Fans of Kaufmann’s many operatic recordings should find him equally exciting in this genre.

Correspondent Roy C. Dicks

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