G?rne disappoints, but not Brendel When still in his twenties, Matthias G?rne recorded Winterreise as part of Hyperion’s complete Schubert edition, and although this was not quite a reading to challenge the pre-eminence of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau or Peter Schreier, it was still a high achievement. As Gramophone commented on its release, “his elegiac, introspective and beautifully sung reading” constituted “a very good Winterreise that may one day become a great one.” A student of Fischer-Dieskau and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, G?rne has been tipped for greatness from the beginning of his career. His voice is of an unusual beauty and flexibility, and he has come to use it with an interpretative freedom that can grip the most experienced of audiences.
Even a very good Winterreise makes for an overwhelming experience, and one would have been grateful to have had that when G?rne performed the cycle with Alfred Brendel at the Wigmore Hall last month. In fact, it took a lot of artistry on G?rne’s part to leave one feeling as unmoved as one did. In the cycle, the wanderer’s journey through the winter landscape takes him from romantic rejection to alienation and madness. G?rne’s wanderer, however, sounded pretty unhinged from the start. Instead of using the tonal centre of his voice to present a character with whose anguish we could then identify, he opted to pit its expressive extremes against each other from the beginning. Too many songs were marked by the juxtaposition of a tone that was thin and vulnerable with one that was gruff, almost barking. The result was less a descent into despair than a series of pathological vignettes. Only in the final song did he allow himself a true, unmannered legato, and while it was quite beautiful, after what had gone before it had the effect of turning what should be the manifestation of the wanderer’s final withdrawal into a moment of relief.
Brendel’s reading of the piano part, in contrast, was masterly; alert to every harmonic nuance and subversion, his playing revealed subtleties of rhythm, inflection and rubato that would certainly have served the great Winterreise for which we had hoped. It is true that things went better in their second recital, in which Schwanengesang was preceded by Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte. A collection rather than a cycle, Schwanengesang encouraged greater expressive variation from G?rne. Even here, however, a keener attention to diction and evenness of…