DG’s mining of its vast catalogue continues with the Original Masters series of budget-priced reissues, of which this well-filled three-disc Hans Hotter set is a highly attractive entry. Hotter’s superb, black-tinged instrument and aliveness to the texts indisputably place him among the great singers of the last century. So this set is an enticing proposition for those familiar with his artistry and for newcomers interested in an overview of Hotter’s distinguished career. But the set is weighted toward the latter part of that career; all of the second disc and parts of the other two were recorded in the early-to-mid-1970s when Hotter was in his mid-60s. (Despite the album’s title, some tracks were recorded in 1975). He was still singing with insight and expressivity, but his remarkably well-preserved vocal instrument had nevertheless become darker, drier, less flexible, and more effortful.
In the early months of 1827 Franz Schubert was not in good health, and his financial situation was desolate. At this time the composer was living in the Vienna house of his friend Franz von Schober, who placed a small library at his disposal. Here, in the month of February, Schubert discovered in the pages of an almanac for 1823 the cycle of poems Die Winterreise by Wilhelm Müller. Fascinated by these texts - especially as he had already successfully set the same author's cycle Die schöne Müllerin - he quickly began writing music for them. However, the almanac did not print the complete Winterreise as we know it today, just the first twelve poems. It was only in the autumn of 1827 that Schubert found the whole cycle of twenty-four poems in Müller's Gedichte aus den hinterlassenen Papieren eines reisenden Waldhornisten (Poems from the posthumous papers of a travelling horn player), published in 1824. He immediately set these poems too, calling this the 'continuation of Winterreise'. The gloomy climate of the lieder corresponds exactly to Schubert's mood of the period. : Sibylle Kamphues
The first few minutes of each of these recordings of Schubert’s overwhelming song cycle hardly seem to belong to the same work. Klaus Mertens , more familiar in sacred music and now in his late fifties, is introduced by a clangorous fortepiano, none too sensitively banged by Tini Mathot, and sounds like an elderly workman off to the day’s slog. Christine Schäfer, who never sounds more than 16, is launched by the perky tones of Eric Schneider, and when she enters it is as a cheerful small bird greeting the sun. Schäfer raises the issue of whether this cycle should be sung by a woman at all, but Lotte Lehmann, Christa Ludwig and above all Brigitte Fassbaender prove that it can be, with magnificent results.
Schubert knew madness. He knew it to the depths of his soul and feared it. And out of his fear he wrote the greatest monument to love lost, to death lost, to madness found. He wrote Die Winterreise, the most hopeless art work ever conceived by the despairing mind of man. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is the voice of Winterreise. In small part, this is because he recorded it seven times between 1952 and 1990. In larger part, this is because he is able to transform himself into the despairing lover. Yet Fischer-Dieskau is still the most lucid and most technically controlled of madmen. As Ingmar Bergman remarked on actor Max von Sydow, "If I'd had a psychopath to present these deeply psychopathic roles, it would have been unbearable".
The Gramophone-award winning partnership of Gerald Finley and Julius Drake turns to perhaps the most celebrated song-cycle of them all. Schubert’s Winterreise is a masterpiece of despair, astonishing in its bleakness and enthrallingly mesmerizing as the journey continues. Finley brings all his considerable dramatic powers to his performance—and all but submerges them under the ice.
This DVD showcases Quasthoff’s soulful interpretation of Schubert’s Die Winterreise, filmed earlier this year in Berlin with Daniel Barenboim on the piano.
It captures not only Quasthoff’s exceptional musicality but also the emotional gravity of his performance, which led Der Tagesspiegel to extol Quasthoff’s astonishing ability "not so much recall events as relive them all over again, summoning them back to life."
In addition to the full concert, the DVD includes rich bonus footage from the rehearsal and interviews with Thomas Quasthoff and Daniel Barenboim – allowing a close look on how these two musical masterminds work out their vision of Schubert’s touching masterpiece.