SCHUBERT: Winterreise – Matthias Goerne, bari./ Christoph Eschenbach, p. – Harmonia mundi

SCHUBERT: Winterreise, D. 911 – Matthias Goerne, bari./ Christoph Eschenbach, p. – Harmonia mundi HMC 902107, 74:54 ****1/2:

I have been drowning in a sea of Winterreises. I am sure there are worse ways to go. Let’s review my own five-star discoveries in recent years: Hendricks, Kaufmann, Finley, Pregardien (a multichannel Disc of the Month selection), Meglioranza (an amazing sleeper), Gura, and Padmore. And there were some others that were close.

Now comes Matthias Goerne in the ninth and final release of his estimable Schubert edition on Harmonia mundi. I have given him solid four stars on every release but one, Die Schone Mullerin which got four and one-half, and have reviewed all but one of the nine releases (Patrick Lam reviewed one (Volume 4), also sticking with four stars, though stating that Goerne is “a born Schubert interpreter certainly in his generation”.  And listening to the subtle perfections found in this performance I can’t disagree—Goerne certainly knows his Schubert and now has to be considered one of the best modern interpreters of this music, something of an authority.

So why not five complete stars? Why do I still prefer Fischer-Dieskau overall in this music? I think because Goerne is so completely established in his Schubertian zone, his own “way” of doing things, he sometimes lacks the element of surprise or risk-taking. When F-D sings the discovery feels so vital and fresh that we come away believing that he has actually experienced the things that Schubert’s poets write about, that the music is something innate to his own personality. With rare exceptions—and this album might just be one of them—I do not get that with Goerne. It’s more like what you would expect from a great artist singing Schubert—great execution, in-depth understanding, yet one step removed from inhabiting the essence of the music. Most of the time this suffices, and it is only in comparison that it becomes obvious. But that is the difference between the great and the sublime, and in this Winterreise in particular, I think that Goerne teeters between the two, almost achieving the incandescent but ultimately remaining outside the Promised Land while still being able to see it clearly.

Overall this is an outstanding issue and a fine conclusion to the series, quite an undertaking, and something that might serve as one’s only collection of Schubert lieder—it’s that good. Yet we must still hunt and peck to find those translucent jewels out there that show us the crux of Schubert. For a good amount of time, you will find it on this disc, and the master Eschenbach contributes greatly to the success of this release. But if you want an only recording, or a really great one, don’t neglect to examine the five-star issues I listed above.

—Steven Ritter

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