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Schubert: Winterreise - Prégardien / Gees

Schubert: Winterreise - Prégardien / Gees

Challenge Classics  CC 72596

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Schubert - Winterreise

Christoph Prégardien & Michael Gees


Schubert's "Winterreise" is one of the most famous song cycles that exist in classical music and musicians take it up again and again because of its beauty, sorrow and depth. It is about life itself and which performer does not want to give his or her opinion on life? Both tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Michael Gees have their own vision on the cycle. Playing together, a third view develops, combining their two visions into an exciting interpretation of Winterreise.

In this production the music lover has more ways than one to enjoy this Lieder cycle to the fullest. This luxurious Hybrid Super Audio edition (book SACD) contains song texts with English translations.

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Review by John Miller - April 1, 2013

Prégardien and Gees have reached the last of their readings of Schubert's song cycles for Challenge Classics with a new Winterreise. After their enlightening performances of Die schöne Müllerin (1823) and Schwanengesang (1828) - not strictly a cycle - I was keenly awaiting Winterreise, and must say right away that the wait was well worth it.

Prégardien has made a number of recordings of Winterreise, and clearly thinks deeply about it. Not only has he recorded a very fine version in 1998 with Andreas Staier (his other current regular partner) on fortepiano, but his experiments include a controversial chamber version with the Pentaèdre wind quintet (including an accordian!) and a "composed interpretation" by Hans Zender and Klangforum Wein. Thankfully, here we have pure unvarnished Schubert.

In his sage booklet notes, Paul Korenhof reminds us that German poet and schoolmaster Wilhelm Müller published 12 poems entitled Winterreise in 1823 when Schubert was composing Müller's Die schöne Müllerin songs. The final 12 poems came a little later, and in 1827, the year before his death, Schubert set the whole series as a song cycle. The Müller story is another "wandering" one, so beloved of Early Romantics, and one bound to attract Schubert, himself a restless man; he lived at more than 20 addresses in Vienna during his life.

Note that the cycle of poems was called Winterreise without the "Die". This is subjective, not objective wandering of young man who has somehow been ejected from his beloved's house, and told never to return. He embarks on a seemingly imaginary course, his mind visiting from time to time the happiness he had with his lover at various emotive locales. Cast out in the snow and bitter Winter weather, he feels himself being led pitilessly to his grave, accompanied only by a crow - and its companionship, he tells himself bitterly, was only to feed on him.

This performance is available on DVD and BluRay as well as on SA-CD. On the BluRay disc Prégardien and Gees discuss their somewhat different "takes" on the often metaphorical and imaginary episodes in the story. Having played the piece regularly in recital, they approached the recording with an agreed "Third Way", which seems to work splendidly. Eschewing the common view of the piece for the last decade being that the whole cycle is about death, they celebrate the happy, gentle and rural material, while not playing down the darker aspects of Winterreiser. Rather than being obsessive-depressive, the story illuminates a number of psychological conditions in a fascinating and subtle way.

Prégardien's tenor register is still holding up well, although there sometimes is a touch of a baritone register which helps some of the darker passages. As in his previous SA-CDs, he has a wonderful array of tone colours and vocal production which depicts with ease the full gamut of emotions experience by the young protagonist. Gees is an exceptional partner and pianist, using Schubert's masterly and often highly original accompaniments to support and sometimes supplant Prégardien's superbly clear lines. In this performance, there is a real feeling of spontaneity; sometimes there are surprising and moving outbursts of emotion which make some other versions sound placid. Without going into detailed comments song by song, I shall just say that this is a new and stunningly vital reading of Winterreise which leaves one exhausted at the end, just as Schubert himself said after performing it.

This magnificent performance is presented completely naturally in DSD by Northstar engineers, from the famous Galaxy Studios at Mol in Belgium, where the studio sits on huge springs to filter out any form of LF noise. Voice and piano emerge almost tangibly from a silent "black" acoustic, which 5.1 makes thrillingly three-dimensional. The disc is stored in a paper envelope at the back of a 63 page stiff-backed book, which has the lyrics displayed in thankfully decently large print in German and English - very compact and handy when listening.

The ambiguity of Müller's stories and the depth of Schubert's settings leave plenty of space for varied interpretations. Some of the "classic" Winter Journeys, e.g. by a pioneering Fischer-Dieskau, are now available on SA-CD (at a price), but I still have a soft spot for the youthful Davislim and his golden voice. However, Prégardien and Gees (and their engineers) should now go into the top rank; they have maturity, spirit and experience behind their very moving, sometimes startling, version

Copyright © 2013 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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