Everyday Rather Live in Classic Eras

The reviews between Jonas Kaufmann and Gerald Finley on Schubert’ Winterreise

Jonas Kaufmann is a sure-footed guide on Schubert’s long day’s journey into night, but the burden of being the World’s Greatest Tenor hampers his performance as the moribund soul trudges on. It’s a Winterreise devoid of vulnerability, whose strapping wanderer is always in control, map and compass in hand.

Legions will follow him though, and many will thrill to his artistry. Time stands still in ‘Wasserflut’; the bewitching ‘Irrlicht’ is doused by a cold awakening; the long, reflective clauses of ‘Im dorfe’ are exquisitely shaped. But Kaufmann’s attentiveness to beauty of tone precludes any projection of psychological fragmentation.

Gerald Finley, too, shuns any suggestion of ghostly spirituality, but there any similarity ends. The Canadian takes a Beckettian view of the cycle; for him it chronicles an existential pilgrimage towards death.  ‘How far still to the grave!’ is the Godot cry in ‘Der greise Kopf’ that propels Finley on through weariness and despair. ‘Die Nebensonnen’ becomes the portrait of a mind shutting down, ‘Der Leiermann’ the welcome lure of oblivion.

With Finley it’s not the singer but the song that dominates. Supported by the startlingly intelligent pianism of Julius Drake (his angular rhythms in ‘Letzte Hoffnung’ are bold indeed) he places Schubert  squarely to the fore. The result is a Winterreise that, although frustratingly urbane in places, should stand any number of re-hearings.

Kaufmann’s pianist, the great Helmut Deutsch, gives a typically probing account of the accompaniment that is captured by Sony (along with the voice) in a suitably heroic acoustic – resonant yet clear on detail. The Hyperion sound is a little more intimate but beautifully balanced.