SCHUBERT: Winterreise – Peter Harvey, baritone/ Gary Cooper, pianoforte – Linn

by | Jan 5, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUBERT: Winterreise – Peter Harvey, baritone/ Gary Cooper, pianoforte – Linn multichannel SACD 371, 74:38 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

It wasn’t very long ago that I reviewed what to me is the consummate modern Schubert Winterreise—with a pianoforte.  Werner Gura is a tenor and Peter Harvey is a baritone, so that might make a difference to some, according to preference. The Harmonia mundi release was also straight stereo, while this one is Super Audio, and the magnification and spread of this release is excellent, though I will admit that some of the things that many people don’t like about the period piano will be amplified on this recording. Cooper uses an 1823 Brodmann copy that eschews equal temperament for a modified Valotti temperament that favors keys with fewer sharps and flats. Though the notes indicate that the capabilities of this instrument included extremes of pianissimo, I don’t hear it; in fact, the dynamics to me were rather vanilla on this recording compared to the aforementioned Gura, and certainly Harvey and Cooper take a much more lenient approach to rhythmic flexibility as well.

There is also a certain lack of clarity in the baritone voice that I miss, especially when quick sixteenth notes are indicated which sometimes end up sounding like slurs. I don’t know why this is, as Harvey, an established singer of some renown and a fine periodist can certainly manage these things vocally. It could be a combination of the rather resonant piano coupled with the surround audio—it’s hard to tell, but I do need to point it out. For all of the felicities of using a period instrument, in this recording the thing sound more powerful than most modern instruments I have heard in this work and it is certainly the equal to the voice in prominence and amplification.

But getting away from the mechanics, it is Harvey’s palpable understanding of this most harrowing of cycles that make this release worthwhile. The gloom of the opening through the wanderer’s journey after having abandoned his beloved, leads him to a state of unimaginable destitution and mental anguish, without hope, without life. Harvey’s voice picks up on all of this, not attempting to be overly-emotive but instead to color each song with an uncanny sense of meaning personified though unmannered vocalism. It is beautifully captured by Linn, though as I said I do think that the voice/piano balance is somewhat skewed.

We have a plethora of new Winterreises on the market. If you are having one I would still stick with the Gura as the preferred reckoning, but this one also has a lot to offer.

— Steven Ritter

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