SCHUBERT: Winterreise – Barbara Hendricks, sop./ Love Derwinger, p. – Arte Verum

SCHUBERT: Winterreise, D 911 – Barbara Hendricks, sop./ Love Derwinger, p. – Arte Verum ARV-010, 71:18 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:

With this release Barbara Hendricks boxes my ears; my review of Die Schone Mullerin a few years ago took the stand against her own arguments about the cycle being suited for a female voice and for a woman in general. Re-reading it now, I still stand by my contention of the “incongruousness of a wandering woman in the age of Schubert.” This isn’t sexist but a very real interpretative issue. This is more than the assumption of a “trouser role” in an opera. Both in it and in Winterreise the Mullerian poetry does indeed focus on the male idea of loss and wandering, something that no woman except perhaps someone like George Sand would ever have experienced. In a way Winterreise picks up where Mullerin left off; from the very beginning with “Gute nacht”—what a strange way to start a cycle!—we are led into a scenario where the physicality of wandering is expressed not so much in terms of movement but in reflection. It’s as if a huge blanket of pure stasis encircles the poetry and elevates the texts into something much more universal than in Mullerin.

Schubert poured his heart into this; some contemporaries even think it was the straw on the camel’s back that eventually killed him the following year. But I sincerely doubt he was too concerned about the idea of gender in this piece, though I believe the thought did cross his mind in Mullerin. But the proof is offered and the case solved when hearing a performance like this one. Only a few women in history have attempted it, most noticeably and recently Brigitte Fassbender a number of years ago on DGG that was accepted with no little acclaim. The same arguments raged then, and I guess they won, as there haven’t been any noticeable ones since then.

I have been critical of Hendricks’s once-rich voice on several occasions. She is older now, and that takes a toll—no denying nature. And in some releases she has lost a little control as well. Those issues are still here too, but she reaches so deeply and probes the texts with such authority and concentrated meticulousness that her channeling of the emotion and raw power of the sense of despair found in every note of Schubert’s masterpiece hit us with overwhelming force. From the end of the second or third songs I knew this was going to be a release to contend with, and considering the recent spate of absolutely first-rate Winterreises that is saying an awful lot.

Love Derwinger is as subtle and reserved as you might want, letting the voice do most of the expression but moving in and out of the overall context that perfectly highlights when the piano needs to come to the fore and when it needs to recede. Sound is great, and this release must be heard by all lovers of this music—and is there anyone who doesn’t?

—Steven Ritter

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