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Reviews: Schubert: Winterreise - Peter Harvey, Gary Cooper

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Review by Beagle January 30, 2011 (4 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I confess, I judged this book by its cover: I bought it because of the stark photo on the cover (by the baritone, Peter Harvey). The black raven captures the bleak spirit of this Liederzyklus in a powerful icon. I also knew Gary Cooper from Mozart: Complete sonatas for keyboard and violin Vol. 1 - Cooper/Podger etc, and Peter Harvey from Monteverdi: Vespers, Magnificat - Robert King and I trust Linn recordings.

In my mind the word Winterreise evokes memories of oversized emotions, much grander than Die schöne Müllerin. But when I played this disc – even though the sound was high quality – the music was flat. Both the text and the accompaniment began to affect me as kitschish, and I began to wonder what I was smoking back in the seventies when this music moved me deeply. Arguably Wilhelm Müller’s poetry is not great, and the piano part is not elaborate.

I drove a long distance this weekend and that part of my mind not involved in navigating was occupied in revising my estimation of Schubert Lieder downward, like Standard & Poors downgrading Irish government bonds. Then, about 100km from home, CBC broadcast a March, 2009 recital by Brett Polegato and Stephen Ralls: of Die Winterreise. YES! Thoughtfully done this music IS heart-shaking. Polegato himself spoke about how he was initially not attracted to Schubert Lieder because of their simplicity, but then (he said) he discovered how much emotion can be discovered within their simplistic surface -- and he certainly did: Polegato dove down deep, lingered, then broke into the light like a breaching whale. Every syllable was shaped and polished with Ängst. And Ralls’ piano was right there with him, an extension of his voice.

By contrast, Peter Harvey seems a stranger to Schubert-land and and perhaps Lieder in general; I get the strong impression that he is READING the text, certainly not feeling it. I really like Gary Cooper’s discs with Rachel Podger, and before hearing Ralls play this morning, I was going to give him full marks for his accompaniment, but now I’m going to hold him back a year to redo his Schubert (not with Harvey). And I will order Schubert: Winterreise - Fischer-Dieskau/Perahia or Schubert: Winterreise - Steve Davislim, Anthony Romaniuk….

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