SCHUBERT Winterreise (Florian Boesch)
It’s less than six years since the release of Florian Boesch’s first recording of Winterreise, a widely praised Onyx account that set quite a benchmark. This new version from Hyperion is remarkable for both its similarities and its differences. The main change, of course, comes in the shape of Roger Vignoles, whose minutely gauged, infinitely subtle piano-playing (beautifully captured by Hyperion’s engineers, and especially clear in Studio Master download) contrasts with Malcolm Martineau’s more robust, assertive contribution on the earlier disc.
In several ways, Boesch’s own approach hasn’t changed that much. There’s the same daring dynamic range, whispers giving way to bursts of expressionistic intensity. The mellow beauty of the voice is largely unchanged, too, although there’s a hardness at louder volumes, and the sort of honeyed tones Gerald Finley produces in his Hyperion recording, for example, are not in Boesch’s armoury. What I notice especially on the new disc is Boesch’s way with the words: there’s a special lightness – though never a levity – that helps keep his line unencumbered, allowing for an astonishing expressive freedom.
More controversial will be the occasional tendency, now a little more pronounced, to sing some notes with unpolished, unsingerly honesty (particularly in his hushed ‘Der Lindenbaum’, for example) or others almost absent-mindedly (as at ‘das heisse Weh’ at the end of the first verse of ‘Wasserflut’ – 0'45"). I remain slightly unconvinced, too, about his halting way with parts of ‘Die Wetterfahne’. But otherwise it’s difficult not simply to marvel at the interpretative skill on show: listen to the gradual turning of the screw in ‘Die Krähe’, for example, the tangible sense of being weighed down in ‘Einsamkeit’ or the masterful delineation of moods of ‘Frühlingstraum’.
But the approach to some of the later numbers – understated, almost strangely objective in tone – might also divide opinion. Boesch keeps both ‘Der stürmische Morgen’ and ‘Mut!’ rather at arm’s length, while ‘Das Wirtshaus’, though wonderfully controlled and hushed, feels a touch abstract. ‘Der Leiermann’, a whole minute quicker than on the earlier recording, is resolutely undemonstrative. Those bowled over by more visceral approaches such as Jonas Kaufmann’s might well feel slightly short-changed. There’s something unusually compelling and hypnotic, however, about a Winterreise that seems consciously to underplay the tragedy, withholding even the consolation of a final catharsis.
It’s an approach, moreover, that raises fundamental questions about how this great cycle should be performed, of where the line between objective presentation and dramatic representation should be drawn. I’m still mulling that one over. In the meantime, though, there’s no question that this is Lieder performance, from both Boesch and Vignoles, at the very highest level of sophistication and accomplishment, and a fascinating, thought-provoking listen.