Genz and Dalberto set out their stall in the opening ‘Gute Nacht’: a brisk, inexorably trudging tempo, sparse staccato textures, broad-spanned phrasing. There is affectionate regret in the major-key final verse, sung in a tender mezza voce, but no lingering sentiment. From the outset we sense that Schubert’s ‘grim journey’, as Samuel Beckett dubbed it, will be unflinchingly undertaken, devoid of self-pity. Other baritones, notably Fischer-Dieskau, in his various recordings, and Matthias Goerne with Brendel (Philips), have explored the cycle’s psychopathology more disturbingly. Gerald Finley, in a recent recording with Julius Drake (Hyperion), stresses elegy and the pain of loss. Genz’s wanderer can protest and despair. ‘Wetterfahne’ is sung with mocking bitterness, while ‘Erstarrung’ has an anguished, almost frantic urgency. But with Dalberto emphasising the percussive bleakness of Schubert’s piano-writing, the abiding impression is of unsentimental, stoical resignation to his fate. This man, you feel, will somehow survive, if only at the margins of existence.
Even amid the wanderer’s encroaching exhaustion, the sense of forward motion is never lost. Phrasing, as ever, in long lines, Genz and Dalberto remind you that No 10, ‘Rast’, is marked mässig (ie moderato), and evoke a weary trudge rather than stasis. ‘Die Krähe’ rivals Peter Schreier, with Schiff (Decca), as the swiftest on disc, and distils a palpable sense of panic. Some may feel Genz underplays the impassioned cry of ‘Wein auf meiner Hoffnung Grab’ (‘Weep on the grave of my hopes’) in ‘Letzte Hoffnung’, sung strictly in tempo. But like the brusque, even resentful, address to the sleeping villagers in ‘Im Dorfe’ and the unflinching onward trudge of ‘Der Wegweiser’ (shades here of the Andante of the Great C major Symphony), this is of a piece with the whole performance.
In ‘Das Wirtshaus’ Genz embodies a physical and spiritual weariness without histrionics. He then hurls out manic defiance in ‘Mut’ , where Dalberto underlines the military march parody, before the two final songs. ‘Die Nebensonnen’ is ruefully resigned, yet heeding Schubert’s nicht zu langsam marking, while ‘Der Leiermann’, sung without nuance, exudes a spectral calm. Other versions of this fathomless cycle, including those mentined above, may be more immediately engulfing. But if you prefer a predominantly brisk interpretation that tends to stress stoicism and ironic bitterness over pathos and incipient derangement, you’ll find that Genz, in fine voice, and Dalberto give a profoundly thought-through performance. For me, at least, they pass the crucial test of making Schubert’s fathomless cycle a cathartic experience.