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A few preferences for Schubert's Winterreise

Further along the winter journey

Thomas Quasthoff: The Winterreise favorite.
Thomas Quasthoff: The Winterreise favorite.

It’s time to return to Winterreise. When it comes to Schubert’s “Winter Journey,” I prefer bass-baritones to tenors for one simple reason. The type of tenor who would sing Winterreise isn’t a voice type of which I’m a fan.

The type of tenor who sings Winterreise is traditionally a small and very light voice. There is a recording of heldentenor Jonas Kaufmann singing the cycle but I still prefer a baritone who leans toward bass above a tenor who leans toward baritone.

The light-voiced tenor in this repertoire always sounds like a sniveling little whiner boy. I want to grab the character by the lapels and give him a good shaking before telling him to do something about his situation instead of whimpering in the dark.

Video:

Schubert's Winterreise

...sung by bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff

...sung by bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff

The tone quality of a bass-baritone suggests that the character in the songs is wise and worldly instead of a simpering complain-a-phile. The lower and darker tone suggests a mature figure who is taking the winter journey with some regret but without being a victim.

Now that we’ve established that baritones are where it’s at, let’s look at some recordings.

The classic recording is with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Gerald Moore from 1972. They first recorded the cycle in 1955, which was the year after Moore recorded it with the Wagnerian bass Hans Hotter.

The 1972 recording was part of a project undertaken by Fischer-Dieskau and Deutsche Grammophon. The project entailed recording every song Schubert wrote. The collection fills 21 CDs but is available on Spotify.

I briefly mentioned the Hans Hotter recording and it is a solid document of a midcentury titan but the singer I prefer is Thomas Quasthoff. I find the tone quality of his voice to be ideal for Winterreise, or any song cycle, for that matter.

Diction and text are always topics when lieder is being discussed. I am not interested in how well the text is pronounced. I am interested in the beauty of the voice and the emotion of the music.

As a native German, Quasthoff’s diction is predictably colloquial, but it is the beauty of his voice which I prefer to all others.

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Thomas Quasthoff: The Winterreise favorite.
Thomas Quasthoff: The Winterreise favorite.

It’s time to return to Winterreise. When it comes to Schubert’s “Winter Journey,” I prefer bass-baritones to tenors for one simple reason. The type of tenor who would sing Winterreise isn’t a voice type of which I’m a fan.

The type of tenor who sings Winterreise is traditionally a small and very light voice. There is a recording of heldentenor Jonas Kaufmann singing the cycle but I still prefer a baritone who leans toward bass above a tenor who leans toward baritone.

The light-voiced tenor in this repertoire always sounds like a sniveling little whiner boy. I want to grab the character by the lapels and give him a good shaking before telling him to do something about his situation instead of whimpering in the dark.

Video:

Schubert's Winterreise

...sung by bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff

...sung by bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff

The tone quality of a bass-baritone suggests that the character in the songs is wise and worldly instead of a simpering complain-a-phile. The lower and darker tone suggests a mature figure who is taking the winter journey with some regret but without being a victim.

Now that we’ve established that baritones are where it’s at, let’s look at some recordings.

The classic recording is with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Gerald Moore from 1972. They first recorded the cycle in 1955, which was the year after Moore recorded it with the Wagnerian bass Hans Hotter.

The 1972 recording was part of a project undertaken by Fischer-Dieskau and Deutsche Grammophon. The project entailed recording every song Schubert wrote. The collection fills 21 CDs but is available on Spotify.

I briefly mentioned the Hans Hotter recording and it is a solid document of a midcentury titan but the singer I prefer is Thomas Quasthoff. I find the tone quality of his voice to be ideal for Winterreise, or any song cycle, for that matter.

Diction and text are always topics when lieder is being discussed. I am not interested in how well the text is pronounced. I am interested in the beauty of the voice and the emotion of the music.

As a native German, Quasthoff’s diction is predictably colloquial, but it is the beauty of his voice which I prefer to all others.

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