Gerhard Huesch = SCHUBERT: Winterreise, D. 911 (rec. 1933); Gute Nacht (rec. 1952) – Gerhard Huesch, baritone/Hanns Udo Mueller, piano/ Manfred Gurlitt, piano (1952) – Opus Kura

by | Sep 19, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Gerhard Huesch = SCHUBERT: Winterreise, D. 911 (rec. 1933); Gute Nacht (rec. 1952) – Gerhard Huesch, baritone/Hanns Udo Mueller, piano/ Manfred Gurlitt, piano (1952)

Opus Kura OPK 2083, 74:18 [Distr. by Albany] **** :

Schubert’s dramatic monologue of eighteen songs, Winterreise (1827), was first recorded by Gerhard Huesch (1901-1984) at the EMI studios in April, 1933.  Huesch set the benchmark for the two great Schubert cycles, also recording Die Schoene Muellerin. Schubert has achieved the perfect equity between voice and piano, the latter establishing both the tone of the song and simultaneously commenting on its psychological disposition. Adopting a straightforward understated approach, Huesch realized the Neue Sachlichkeit (new plain-spoken) movement – an unromantic style in relatively quick tempos that emphasized clear delineation of the text and studied – nuanced character of the vocal line, especially as Huesch’s sweetly-colored voice possesses several degrees of sotto voce.

The cycle of lieder by the poet Wilhelm Mueller stands well as a progression of despair: an unhappy youth has wasted his love and devotion on a woman unworthy of his ardor, and he treks into the wintry cold to confirm his emotional desolation. The poems reflect the various stages of his initial infatuation and eventual disenchantment: he passes by her house and recalls early conversations and pledges of commitment. The third song, “Die Wetterfahne” (the Weather-Vane), condenses the emotional tenor of the work, as the piano bears the character of a bitter wind, but the weather-vane testifies to the fickleness of the human heart. Violence and hopelessness color the realization that the beloved will marry another. The fires of thwarted passion meet the icy realm of winter, in tears and in the frozen landscape. Several of the songs disarm by their virtual simplicity: The Linden Tree and Torrent (Wasserflut) come to mind; but Irrlicht (Will o’ the Wisp), too, captures the ephemeral quality of love that yields to the permanent frost of reality, of which Huesch employs the most delicate legatos and ritenutos.

Despite the scratchiness of the 1933 shellacs, the directness and authenticity of the approach belies the antiquity of the sound. Huesch’s presence projects as  assured, forceful, even willful, especially in songs like Einsamkeit (Solitude), Die Kraehe (The Crow) and Die Post, moments of self-mockery and acerbic derision.  The posthorn becomes the metaphor for the persistence of hope in the face of disillusionment. The forces of spiritual fatigue become overwhelming; such is the figure of the black crow that haunts the narrator like some ghoulish figure out of Poe. “In Dorfe” describes yet another sleepy hamlet where any attempt to find peace invites the vile rebuffs of the village dogs. At the crossroads, at a signpost, the narrator succumbs to resignation. How many natural sounds have come to echo the wanderer’s heartbeat? He enters a cemetery, and Huesch’s intonation of the words, “Nun weiter denn” shudders with aimless angst. In Mut (Courage) a kind of willful defiance enters the narrator’s heart, to stand erect in the face of his own annihilation. The uncanny vision of three suns haunts Die Nebensonnen, phantoms of a mind perplexed, abused and “wrought to the extreme.” A blandness of expression suffuses Der Leiermann, the Organ-Grinder, since the narrator seems repudiated by both life and death. Has the persona gone mad, or has a mad world inverted all that had meaning? Two fools whom even dogs scorn find communion in this last coldly ironic moment.

In 1952, Huesch inscribed Gute Nacht once more, his voice now a mellower burnished instrument of ravishing color.  Every phase seems caressed by a messenger from above. Collectors are encouraged to purchase this fine reissue in tandem with the Pristine issue of the 1936 Huesch Dichterliebe of Schumann with Hanns Udo Mueller (PAC025).

— Gary Lemco

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