Maltman Goes To Extremes With Schubert

There's plenty to enjoy in this live recording, but Christopher Maltman's strong vocal can overpower Winterreise's intimacy

Composer: Schubert
Repertoire:  Winterreise

Artists: Christopher Maltman (bar), Graham Johnson (pf)
Rating:  4/5
Genre: Vocal
Label: Wigmore Hall Live WHLIVE 0046

The Music: Wilhelm Müller’s poetry, crafted with musical setting in mind, twice inspired Schubert to write cycles of songs of the highest artistry. Winterreise dates from 1827, the remarkably productive year before Schubert’s death. The collection of two dozen songs chart the journey of a lonely wanderer, estranged from the world and rejected in love, through a desolate winter landscape. It seems that only death can deliver a better future.

The Performance: With might and main, Christopher Maltman repeatedly punctuates the introspection of this ‘Winter’s journey’ with vocal outbursts more in keeping with Wagner’s Wotan than Schubert’s wanderer. Maltman’s man of action approach works well at times, notably so in ‘Erstarrung’ and ‘Rückblick’, but grows to become a mannerism in the context of his alternative strategy of diminishing the voice almost to nothing to mark inwardness and intimacy in Müller’s poems. The singer’s expressive extremes are further thrown into relief by Graham Johnson, who deals in fine nuance and subtle shades of detail at the keyboard.

The Verdict: There are many good things in this live Wigmore Hall recital, not least Maltman’s characterisation of despair and alienation in ‘Wasserflut’ and ‘Rast’ and Johnson’s eloquent pianism. In sum, Schubert’s cycle unfolds here more as a series of contrasting episodes than a focused psychodrama.

Want More? If it’s a special Winterreise you’re after, look no further than Thomas Quasthoff’s performance with Daniel Barenboim on DVD (Deutsche Grammophon, 073 4049).