Julius Patzak sings SCHUBERT = Die Schoene Muellerin; Winterreise – Julius Patzak, tenor/ Michael Raucheisen, piano/ Joerg Demus, piano (D. 911) – Preiser (2 CDs)

by | Jun 20, 2014 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Julius Patzak sings SCHUBERT = Die Schoene Muellerin, D. 795; Winterreise, D. 911 – Julius Patzak, tenor/ Michael Raucheisen, piano (D. 795)/ Joerg Demus, piano (D. 911) – Preiser PR 93487 (2 CDs), 61:17, 66:47 [Distr. by Albany] (6/10/14) ****: 

Although thoroughly trained as a musician, Viennese tenor Julius Patzak (1898-1974) had little, if any, technical schooling in the vocal arts. Yet, he became a favorite among audiences in his native city and second only to Richard Tauber as a master stylist in the Central European repertory. His voice, though not large, was plangent and somewhat hard-edged, capable of encompassing both lyric and dramatic roles. His forays into Viennese operetta were exemplary, full of character and knowing gestures, and sung with an immaculate sense of both elegance and forcefulness. His famous recording of Mahler‘s Das Lied von der Erde with contralto Kathleen Ferrier and Bruno Walter directing the Vienna Philharmonic has achieved legendary status.

Schubert set poetry by Wilhelm Mueller in 1823 to create one of the first major lied-cycles in music. The narrative depicts a young miller who starts out as a true innocent, dazzled by the power of his first infatuation; but then his ardor gradually unravels with the revelation that his love is hopeless. The wanderer muses on whether he, like the hunter, might adopt a taste for the color green, but he only finds himself consumed by jealousy. The narrator communes with Nature, but it too seems dead. In the last song, the moving brook offers a consolation, but that anodyne may well represent the solace of death.

Patzak and director of lied and chamber music at Berlin Radio, Michael Raucheisen (1889-1984), broadcast the Muellerin cycle in 1943. Vienna-born Patzak infuses the words of the poet with the singer’s own accent and dialect, rather than in flawless high German. What there is of optimism then rebelliousness becomes resigned despair when the lovely miller-maid chooses a hunter – a dealer in death – over his advances. Since Schubert raised the piano part to the level of a Greek chorus in his songs, we must grant pianist Raucheisen his due for the power of his accompaniment, especially in songs like Am Feierabend, in which the music moves from self-assertion to impending self-delusion, a fear explicitly expressed in Der Neugierige. Patzak’s palpitating heart certainly throbs throughout Ungeduld, and our collective hearts break at ganz von ferne in Morgengruss, as the narrator helplessly loves from afar.

Patzak recorded the Winterreise cycle in March 1964 with Schubert exponent, pianist Joerg Demus (b. 1928) at the Palais Schoenburg, Vienna. Once more, in 1828, Schubert turned to the poetry of Wilhelm Mueller, setting two groups of twelve poems each. Schubert’s original group of settings therefore closed with the dramatic cadence of “Irrlicht,” “Rast,” “Frühlingstraum” and “Einsamkeit,” and his second sequence began with “Die Post.” Dramatically, the first half depicts the sequence from the leaving of the beloved’s house, and the second half conveys the torments of reawakening hope and the path to resignation.

In Winterreise Schubert raises the importance of the pianist to full equality with the singer. In particular, the piano’s rhythms constantly express the moods of the poet, like the distinctive rhythm of “Auf dem Flusse”, the restless syncopated figures in “Rückblick”, the dramatic tremolos in “Einsamkeit”, the glimmering clusters of notes in “Irrlicht,” or the sharp accents in “Der stürmische Morgen.” The piano supplies rich effects in the Nature imagery of the poems, the voices of the elements, the creatures and active objects, the rushing storm, the crying wind, the water under the ice, birds singing, ravens croaking, dogs baying, the rusty weathervane grating, the posthorn’s calling, and the drone and repeated melody of the rustic hurdy-gurdy.

Patzak’s active vocal career had formally ended by 1964, his voice’s having lost its athletic vigor.  But his innate musicianship compensates for the vocal limitations with insistent pathos, and he has a sensitive partner in Demus. The idea of a “winter’s journey” as a symbol or symptom of life’s decline – the frozen climes of the human heart or psychic landscape portrayed in Frankenstein – must have been psychologically apt for the sixty-six-year-old Patzak. The narrator confronts any number of self-imposed obstacles that he must surmount, in terms of the colors white and green, as well as symbols from Nature, like the crow (Die Krahe), which becomes a nightmare companion or familiar out of Poe or Coleridge. In “Rueckblick” the narrator loses his sense of real time, standing at least mentally before his beloved’s abode. If the Romantic conceit of “doubling” permeates this cycle, invoking the image of a doppelgaenger, perhaps the most obvious incarnation of the psychic split occurs in the relationship between piano and voice, in which Schubert asks the keyboard to urge the spirit to explore terrifying and disheartening visions, as in Der greise Kopf, where youth and old age no longer have any physical relevance.

Perhaps a more “musical” than “sonic” record, these renditions of Schubert song-cycles bring to bear an emotional authenticity collectors ought to seek out.

—Gary Lemco

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