Zender Schubert's "Winterreise" for Tenor & Small Orchestra

Hans Zender's composed interpretation of Schubert's great song-cycle receives powerful advocacy for the second time on disc, but begs the question 'Why?'

Author: 
Fabrice Fitch

Zender Schubert's "Winterreise" for Tenor & Small Orchestra

  • Schubert's 'Winterreise'

Since a good recording already exists of this 'composed interpretation' of Schubert's song-cycle, I will leave aesthetic considerations aside for a moment and compare the two versions. Both are clean and persuasive in instrumental terms, but the new recording tends to give the music more space (both in real and impressionistic terms), better conveying the metaphor of a 'journey' intended by Schubert (and Zender). Then there is the new recording's sound-image, which has the greater presence and a wider dynamic range, rendering details more audibly. Given the music's occasional reliance on shock-value, it's worth observing that there are moments here that make one jump out of one's seat (as in Gute Nacht) more noticeably than in the original recording under Zender's own direction.
As for the protagonists, I found myself marginally more attuned to Christoph Pregardien's lighter, clearer tone (disregarding a rather perfunctory Die Krahe), although Hans-Peter Blochwitz acquits himself with equal distinction, and has perhaps a slight edge in matters of detail. Suffice it to say that both singers turn in solid performances. After all, the emphasis here must surely be on Zender's glosses, and for that reason this new version seems to me the stronger of the two.
But I find it impossible to conclude without asking what Zender is doing here. Reviewing the Ensemble Modern's recording five years ago, Michael Oliver wondered whether the composer's additions, transformations (transmogrifications? call them what you will) do no more than make blatantly obvious what should be sufficiently clear in Schubert's original. I should point out that I am not against Zender's enterprise as such; but the result is either overdone (as in the clownish episodes of Auf dem Flusse, or the tempo distortions between sections in Die Post) or insufficiently unfaithful to the original (as in the embarrassingly literal shuffle of feet at the beginning of Gute Nacht). This attempt to 'reinvigorate the original impulse, the existential force', and the sense of alienation of Zender's model constantly point to ways in which it might have been more imaginatively, more subtly, more disturbingly realised. If a singer and accompanist were to give as heavy-handed an interpretation of Winterreise as this, some of my colleagues in these pages would make short work of it.
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