It is remarkable and surprising just how many versions of this cycle are already available on CD (four others besides those listed above). Any of the five discussed here are worthy of consideration, so are—for different reasons—the two LP-only versions. No single approach can be described as definitive, each is worthy of the great work itself.
When the Hotter first came out in 1955, Alec Robertson, happily free from having to take rivals into account, could recommend it unreservedly, finding Hotter's dark, world-weary tones ideal to convey the winter wanderer's lone journey, which is now heard with that much more immediacy in the excellent transfer to a single CD. Then came Fischer-Dieskau's first recording (EMI mono ALPS1298, ALP1299, 11/55—nla), and a rejected lover of a more youthful kind, bitterly railing against his fate. You could make your choice between two equally valid approaches, both superbly accompanied by Moore, and be happy, or rather sad if you were to identify, as both do so closely, with the rejected man's fate. Then came Sir Peter Pears on Decca (LP only) with yet another marvellous interpretation, now in the keys in which Schubert conceived the work and with Britten re-thinking, in his own creative way, the piano's role. Much more recently we have had Richter for Schreier (Philips), slow, deep and stark, and Brendel (in Fischer-Dieskau's latest rendering, also on Philips), searching and detailed, offering yet further perspectives and Schreier peering perhaps even more agonizingly into the meaning of both text and music.
Which leaves poor Siegfried Lorenz with pretty stiff competition. That he emerged from my comparisons with such credit is due not a little to the same vocal attributes and interpretative perceptions that he brought to his recommendable Schwanengesang (Capriccio 27 112, 10 097 9/87), a field in which competition is less formidable. As there, he sings with pleasing, consistently firm tone and with an enviable control of line and dynamics. The range of his voice is not so large as Fischer-Dieskau's, a singer from whom he has learnt so much, but within its smaller compass he can achieve almost the same power and intensity, as in the whole of ''Erstarrung'' and at the climax, ''Erkennst du nun dein Bild'' of ''Auf em Flusse''. Some songs, ''Der Lindenbaum'' and ''Der Wegweiser'', are taken slowly, more slowly than by Hotter, but by dint of the concentration of his singing they do not drag, and his ''Nebensonnen'' and ''Leiermann'', though not so world-weary or intimate as Hotter's, carry their own validity in terms of word-painting and inner tensions.
Part of the reason for some want of intimacy is the rather too reverberant church acoustic, the 1954 Walter Legge mono recording for Hotter seems to me ideal in bringing the artists into the room with you. I say 'artists' in the plural because I have so far not mentioned Norman Shetler's acute, positive and finely chiselled playing—listen to the way he depicts the bare wretchedness of the falling leaves in ''Letzte Hoffnung'' or the tired plodding in ''Der Wegweiser''. Moore, a shade more self-effacing, still boasts that unique touch of his, so often referred to by JW in his reviews of this work and other Schubert songs. The References CD, reprehensibly, has no text or translation, the Capriccio only the German words.
Lorenz stretches the cycle on to a second CD, but that is very satisfyingly filled with 15 further Lieder, nine of them to Goethe texts and including a thrillingly incisive
Hotter's Winterreise remains a model of dark-toned, refined, melancholic feeling expressed usually in transpositions downwards of a third, in his own very special kind of verbal accentuation. I wouldn't be without it, especially in its new and faithfully reproduced form, but neither would I be without at least one Fischer-Dieskau version and the Schreier. And, to complete my picture of the work, I would need Wilson-Johnson's edition (Hyperion—LP only), less well sung than Lorenz's but with the songs re-ordered as Muller intended and with music sung in a style closer (probably) to that of Schubert's time and with a fortepiano as partner. Great works benefit from this variety of achievement. However, if I had to have just two versions, say, they would be Schreier's and Hotter's.'