* SCHUBERT: Winterreise, D 911 – Christoph Pregardien, tenor/ Michael Gees, p. – Challenge Classics multichannel SACD CC72596, 70:43 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:
Another Winterreise. I guess as long as there are male singers we will keep getting recordings of this, perhaps the most seminal and important song cycle in all of history. And why not? No sooner had I completed my review of Thomas Meglioranza’s miraculous self-produced disc did this one appear on my doorstep. Having just compared that wonder with the radiance of the sun itself—and favorably—what would this one bring? First off it is by one of the most noted tenors of the age, Christoph Pregardien, so it commands attention. Secondly, it is the second SACD issue of this cycle I have heard, the first being that of Steve Davislim on Melba that I liked a lot for his vocal control and intense middle-register voice, but had some concerns about the interpretative nuances in relationship to Schubert’s score. No such reservations are found on this recording, though it is almost a full 10 minutes—ten—shorter than the Melba.
One of my major criticisms of the Melba was that “the unremittingly slow tempos of all of these pieces lead to a certain stasis where each becomes a statement of individuality instead of a statement of the cycle as a whole. In other words, the integral connectedness of the whole can be lost.” At this tempo, faster even than the norm, Pregardien has hit the right answer. In and of themselves the pieces that constitute the cycle have enough built-in pathos and wintry darkness that one hardly needs to exaggerate for the sake of effect. It’s like Bernstein’s last recording of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique—one likes it as a once-off, but for repeated listening it begins to sound morbid and thoroughly distasteful. In this work Schubert is taking his protagonist through a bleak and winter-gloomy landscape that has as its premise a longing for death. Slowing down all of the songs is like an egregious sampling of over-acting, getting a point across to an audience deemed stupid and unable to discern subtlety. Moving things along, particularly with such rigorously embracing sound and mellifluously pliant and agreeable singing and playing, makes for an hour or so of musical enthrallment that all lovers of the cycle will embrace wholeheartedly. I loved the cycle of Thomas Meglioranza. This one too, this time for tenor. Ah, such riches! Get them both!