Winterreise, 8 Lieder from Schwanengesang (Souzay, Baldwin)

Schubert: Winterreise, d911. Eight Songs from Schwanengesang, d957. Gerard Souzay (baritone). Dalton Baldwin (piano). Philips


These Schubert works represent two of the greatest promontories of the Lied, each very approachable and yet culminating in daunting and desolate peaks. Souzay and Baldwin make an impressive joint ascent without quite scaling the ultimate heights. But their account of these grand vistas is individual and sensitive, and hence well worth attention.

     What is perhaps slightly amiss in Winterreise is an occasional lack of expedition. Souzay offers a deeply reflective and philosophical interpretation. But he seems, no doubt for that very reason, to identify more readily with thought and feeling than with action and gesture; and the Schubert song demands physical as well as metaphysical expression. If these Lieder are to be found moving, they must be kept moving; when they lose impetus, they lose impact.

     Thus the central musical image is life as a journey, a forced march through hostile terrain. Gute Nacht sets nut only the scene but the pace. That decisive first step is allowed to falter and flag too early, in Gefrorene Tränen and Auf dem Flusse, without clear textual or interpretative justification. Prospects improve with the retrospective Rückblick, which is made admirably vivid  and evocative by both singer and pianist; and there are many such memorable moments for example in the chilling contrast between warm dream and icy reality when the truth dawns at cock-crow ("und als die Hähne krähten") in Frühlingstraum. But the cycle has to be heard as a whole; and it perhaps needed rather more sustained drive,

     The Schwanengesang selection is another matter. Even in complete performance this collection lacks integral unity, and the eight songs recorded here are best considered as separate performances. They sound finely compelling in their controlled intensity. Particularly impressive is the range of feeling traversed, from the effortful weightlifting of Der Atlas to the effortless flights of Die Taubenpost. The sound quality is generally acceptable, though I personally found the voice/keyboard balance somewhat biased in favour of the former, which underplays the piano role both in Schubert and the Lied genre as such.


© gramophone, Oct. 1976 (p. 639)