Magazine article Opera Canada

Winterreise: Schubert

Magazine article Opera Canada

Winterreise: Schubert

Article excerpt



Russell Braun, baritone, Carolyn Maule, piano.

CBC Records MVCD 1171

Schubert's late, great song cycle, Winterreise (he corrected the proofs of Part II on his death bed in 1828), is a very different sort of animal from the 1823 cycle Die schone Mullerin, both settings of poems by Wilhelm Muller. The Mullerin songs, many of them classically strophic in form, trace a linear narrative, telling the tale of a feckless young man and his beloved, the "fair maid of the mill" of the title. The composer's genius raised the simple and sometimes trivial texts to a new level, essentially creating the art form of the song cycle as we know it.


While the Mullerin cycle is at first cheerful and optimistic, its mood turns to despair as the miller's daughter drives the young man to drown himself in a brook. By contrast, Winterreise is, in its entirety, one of the most thoroughly gloomy and pessimistic works of its kind (16 of the 24 songs are in minor keys). Schubert penned the cycle in two parts, and the order of the songs appears to have been arrived at by chance, since Muller himself had assembled and published the poems in piecemeal fashion. Likewise, the cycle's protagonist, a wanderer incessantly lamenting his sweetheart's faithlessness, follows an aimless path through the dark dead of winter. (His is, in fact, the only character in this drama apart from the hurdy-gurdy man of the final song.)

The tenor voice lends itself best to the lyrical strains of Die schone Mullerin, while the dark tone of Winterreise is best suited to the baritone timbre. The latter has had more than its share of great recordings by baritones, surely topped by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's awe-inspiring EMI account with Gerald Moore, from 1955. Just last year, the German baritone's compatriot, Matthias Goerne, unleashed a superb live performance with Alfred Brendel on the Decca label. …

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