Winterreise (Winter Journey) is a song cycle for voice and piano by Franz Schubert published in 1828. Along with his earlier Die Schöne Müllerin, the two song cycles are the benchmarks for the genre.
In Winterreise, Schubert uses the poems of Wilhelm Müller as text. The series of poems describe a poet as a jilted lover who wanders the winter countryside. The subject is morose and Schubert’s music is equally dark. But, the songs have a stunning beauty. The sun does shine at times, but the feeling of sadness is profound.
Canadian Baritone, Gerald Finley is quickly becoming one of the mainstays of the opera and concert stage. I first heard him as Nixon in John Adams’ superb opera, Nixon in China. Finley has not only developed into a wonderful singer, he’s also a fine actor. Both these qualities add to this magnificent new Winterreise.
His embodiment of Müller’s besotted poet is heartbreaking.
Beginning with my favourite song, Gute Nacht (Good Night), Finley paints the words with glorious tone, pathos and subtlety. Much like my favourite performer of Winterreise, the great Hans Hotter (EMI). All 24 songs receive the same treatment. With his song cycles, Schubert raised the importance of accompanist to that of equal soloist. Here, Julius Drake is almost the match of Hotter’s partner, Gerald Moore.
Drake matches Finley’s emotion exactly, incredibly difficult for a percussive instrument. Whether hunting calls in the distance, imitative passages with vocal lines or beautifully voiced chords emphasizing the text, Drake is superb.
I worked with Drake on a college project many moons ago. He was a wunderkind then (and a real character!). It’s wonderful to see his development as a musician and his well deserved musical notoriety.
The recording is audiophile quality. Balance is perfect and the bass on the piano is something to behold. In perfect voice, but so deep. Front and centre is Finley. His CD is a modern benchmark for Winterreise and will sit proudly next to my old Hotter EMI as my Winterreise of choice.
Playing time: 74:33
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