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27 Dec 2005
Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise has been performed by many fine singers, who keep the work alive in the repertoire and in the imagination of audiences. In recent years the work has been subject to a variety of interpretations, and with this recording, the well-known tenor René Kollo offers his perspective on the work, accompanied by the young pianist Oliver Pohl.
Those familiar with René Kollo’s work might associate him more with opera, but he has recorded other kinds of works as well. This release is Schubert’s Winterreise is a recent effort that was created for and released by Oehms in 2004. Kollo recorded it between 17 and 19 February. His statement about the performance is included in the booklet that accompanies the CD, and in it he calls attention to his perspective of the music. As he states,
With my interpretation of Winterreise, I hope to present listeners with a new view of Schubert’s Lied cycle. For me, Winterreise is not primarily a story of farewell and the longing for death. I see it much more as the wrathful flight of a man, who – beset by the realities of class differences – must leave the one he loves. He fails in the face of social tensions; the rich girl is unattainable for him. . . . At the end, I sing of a beginning – not of a standstill. In the person of the hurdy-gurdy grinder, the search finds one who has certainly traveled a similarly fateful path. He now sings his songs with him. The mood is lighter and tends slightly towards optimism. . . .
Yet in concluding his remarks, Kollo acknowledges that the CD is expressly intended as a fund-raiser for the Deutsche Kinderhilfe Direkt (the German Direct Children’s Aid Association). The purpose is stated on the cover of the CD, and the first thing that one finds inside is the statement by Georg Ehrmann that the purchase of the recording is intended to benefit German Children’s Aid, with the address, contact information and even Konto codes for further donations. As a means of calling attention to a cause, this is certainly a unique involvement of the arts, which are often concerned with raising money for their own purposes.
Notwithstanding the reasons for the recording, it merits attention for the mature and well-thought perspective that Kollo brings to a familiar work. This is a sound approach to the work that the performers have borne out well in this recording. As a studio recording, the performance is lacks hall noise and other distractions that sometimes occur, even in the best of circumstances. Yet the sound levels are sometimes extremely close to the voice, thus missing the ambiance that comes from having some distance between the performances and the microphones. The kind of resonance that has been preserved in some other recordings of Schubert’s Lieder is not easy to find on this CD, and it is sometimes difficult to hear the accompaniment blend with the voice.
As to the accompaniment, the performance on this recording suggests that Oliver Pohl has much to offer in the area of Lieder. The nuances that Pohl brings into the fourth song, “Erstarrung,” the one which Kollo holds to be the turning point in the cycle, is effective. This stands in contrast to the sometimes relentless execution he gives to the first three songs, the ones that Kollo states depict the angry flight [zornige Flucht] of the protagonist. The lighter tone that the performers introduce after the first songs culminates in an exceptionally thoughtful conclusion, with the final song “Der Leiermann” fading away in a manner that fully contrasts the opening pieces. Pohl is responsible for this convincing dénouement, and he has clearly worked out the interpretation with Kollo. Overall Pohl supports Kollo solidly, matching the tenor’s intensity with similarly strong playing, which is evident in the exposed passages for piano, like the one in the center of “Der Lindenbaum.”
The liner notes for the CD include the full text of the song cycle, but without any translations. With a familiar work like this, the lack of a translation is not a problem, but it points, perhaps, to the intended audience of the CD in Germany or, at least, in German-speaking countries. In fact, the note by Pohl appended to his biography reinforces the intention of the performers’ support of the Deutsche Kinderhilfe Direkt, and this leads into Kollo’s statement about the interpretation of the cycle.
All in all, this recording has much to recommend, not the least of which is the overtly divergent approach that Kollo offers. In a mature, polished singer conveys his well-considered approach to familiar music. Enthusiasts of Lieder and specifically Schubert’s music may find this recording of interest. At the same time, those familiar with Kollo as an opera singer may want to hear him in the context of this fine recording of Schubert’s Winterreise.
James L. Zychowicz