Customer Reviews: Schubert: Winterreise
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on June 21, 2001
If you are going to purchase a Winterreise recording, let me assure you that having listened to so many, it has to be either this one, or the recording of Fischer-Dieskau, also in 1962, accompanied by Moore. Both pianists - Moore and Demus - work beautifully for Fischer-Dieskau. I might perhaps recommend Moore over Demus, but that is, of course, just my preference, and it is Fischer-Dieskau's performance we're talking about here.
First off, one needs to know a little German, or at least follow the translation well, in order to appreciate these Lieder. Fischer-Dieskau brings such a depth of emotion into the music that the lyrics must be followed by the listener, or else much is lost. Vocal expression - emotions expressed in individual words - is more important in "Wintereise" than in many other German Lieder.
This "Winterreise" is the most, repeat, the most beautiful rendition of ANY of Schubert's Lieder that I have heard. Someone once reviewed Fisher-Dieskau's 1960s Winterreise saying "it makes you feel like slashing your wrists".
True! "Winterreise" is, as Schubert said, morose and devoid of hope; Fischer-Dieskau carries the mood and emotion to the extreme limits, and what we get is such a heart-rending performance, it's almost unbearable. It's also almost unbelievable that a human voice can carry so much emotion.
Fischer-Dieskau's voice in this recording is at its best. It is totally spontaneous; it is from the depths of a despondent heart - and yet it is perfect. So perfect, in fact, that it seems that not even a syllable could have been improved!
The horror of the waking from the dream - "Es shrieen die Raben vom Dach!"; the resigned yet infinitely pining tone in "wann halt ich mein Liebchen in Arm?"; and most of all, the soul-shaking tremor in the words "Ob wohl auch so reisend schwillt?" -- these stick in the heart. If any one recording opens the ear to Schubert's infinite world of painful beauty, this is the one.
One could go on and on about this recording, but to cut a long story short, if you remain unmoved by Fisher-Dieskau's "Winterreise" there is probably very little in classical/romantic music that will ever move you. This is the master-composer at his finest, the human voice at its finest, and music at its finest.
To sum up, this is some of the best of Schubert's music on CD you will ever procure. The sound is legendary DG.
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For reasons I don't fully understand, I have developed a custom over the past several years of listening to Schubert's Winterreise at around the time of the Fourth of July. Perhaps it is the contrast between the hot summer days and the icy, wintery setting of Schubert's songs. In addition, the one-day summer break, encouraging reflection in the midst of a busy year, draws me to Schubert's music. But more so, while occupied with public celebrations, such as fireworks, parades, and company (which I also enjoy), I find it valuable to do something private,pensive, and deeply sad. It is the feeling of being alone. Thus, this year, as in several years past, I have reheard "Winterreise".

Winterreise is a cycle of 24 poems by Wilhelm Muller that Schubert set in 1827, just months before his death. The singer is a man who has just been rejected by a woman he has met in a town to which he has wandered. "A stranger I arrived/ a stranger I depart again", he sings at the outset of the work. The work covers a range of feelings from rejection through loneliness, despondency, self-criticism, anger, dashed hope, thoughts of suicide, heartbreak, and, at the end, madness. It is wrenching music, utterly sad. It captures feelings that those who have been alone will know, regardless of musical sophistication. For all the sadness of the score, I never fail to feel restored upon hearing it.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recorded at least seven studio versions of "Winterreise" during a long career. I am most familiar with his recordings with his long-time accompanist, Gerald Moore; but I find that this recording, dating from 1966, with pianist Jorg Demus surpasses the versions with Moore. The phrasing, dramatic power, and passion of Fischer-Dieskau's singing on this recording are extraordinary. In virtually all of these songs, Fischer-Dieskau displays contrasts in the protagonist's mood and feelings. Many of the songs begin with slow and melancholy lines as Fischer-Dieskau works up to climactic passages of fury and despondency and then, frequently, falls back again. He makes great contrast between a declamatory singing style, almost approaching speech, and a flowing lyricism. Demus's accompaniment is smoldering and subdued. He sets the stage for Fischer-Dieskau with the many preludes Schubert composed for the songs, some of which are tone-paintings for the falling of the snow, the coldness of ice, the blowing of the wind, the flying of crows, and the isolation of the heart.

Among the songs that moved me on this hearing of "Winterreise" were no. 4, "numbness"; no. 5. "Der Lindenbaum", the most famous work of the cycle; no. 12, "Loneliness"; no. 14. "the hoary head" ; no. 15, the haunting "the crow"; no. 19, "deception" with its heartbreaking line "Ah, anybody as wretched as I/ yields gladly to this bright deceit"; and the two final songs of madness, nos. 23 and 24, "The Phantom Suns" and "The Organ Grinder."

Anyone who know what it is to be alone will love "Winterreise" regardless of the time of year. This recording is an unparallelled way to get to know this music.

Robin Friedman
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Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau died yesterday at 86. He was the greatest lieder singer of the second half of the twentieth century, and his voice was one of those, like Bjoerling's, that was both immediately recognizable and absolutely beautiful. He was more than a lieder singer, of course, but it seems fitting, given his predominance and continuing influence in that field to use this occasion to highlight one of his lieder recordings. This Winterreise with Demus from 1966 is to my mind the best of his recordings of these songs (and none of them are negligible!). The voice was at its peak, the balance of attention to the text and the music seems just right, Demus's contribution is distinguished, and the recording is truthful. The old favorites like "Lindenbaum" are simply gorgeous, and the later, more bitter songs in the cycle are heartbreaking. By all means hear F-D's other "Winterreisen" -- two with Moore from 1962 and about 1970, and the one with Brendel from the 1980's, with the voice still beautiful and distinctive. Then move on to his "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" with Schwarzkopf and Szell -- a "Wo die Schonen Trompeten blasen" like no other -- and to his "Fahrenden Gesellen" songs with Kubelik or Furtwangler ("Die Zwei Blauen Augen" to break the heart). Then there are the operas! We WILL never hear his like again.
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on February 17, 2001
My high school German teacher -- one of them -- called German "die Sprache Dichtern und Denker" -- and I hope my faulty grammar at least paraphrases what he meant. This album brought his words back to me, to which I would add 'singers of eternally beautiful songs.' The combination of lyric beauty and dramatic power is unmatched here. Fischer-Dieskau has recorded this cycle several times. It is hard to ignore his collaborations with Gerald Moore, but this version from the mid-sixties finds a supurb partner in Jorg Demus.
Perhaps the German Lieder tradition of setting fine verse to music reached it's peak in Schubert's setting of Wilhelm Muellers poems. This recording makes a convincing argument in favor of such a view. The cycle seems a reflection on mortality and the ultimate solitude of the individual; the final song, "Der Leiermann," is a heartbreaking image of despair made bearable through the sheer beauty of Fischer-Dieskau's voice.
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on February 10, 1999
Fischer-Dieskau is absolutely the best interpreter of Schubert's lieder. He has the most beautiful baritone I've ever heard, so natural and smooth. And the songs themselves are gorgeous. Fischer-Dieskau, it seems, was born to perform Schubert's work like no one else. A superb recording.
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on November 9, 2005
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was 40 when he made this recording of Schubert's "Die Winterreise" in 1965. Keep in mind this is Fischer-Dieskau's collaboration with pianist JORG DEMUS in "Winterreise", not to be confused with Gerald Moore, with whom he recorded this work for both EMI and DG (later than the Demus), and with Daniel Barenboim for DG; Alfred Brendel for Philips (1985); and finally with Murray Perahia for Sony (ca. 1990). One could almost do a study of "Winterreise" throughout Fischer Dieskau's career, making this a topic of research/ reporting all it's own.

Some critics believe this to be F-D's best "Winterreise" recording. He had already performed the cycle numerous times, and committed it to recordings at least twice in the studio prior to this one, so he was a seasoned veteran when this was made. Since I am not a singer, I cannot comment on every aspect of this recording, except to say the balance of voice and piano is superb, and the reproduction vivid. If you want only one recording of this cycle by a baritone, I would advise this to be the one to get.

Other options? Fischer-Dieskau with Gerald Moore (EMI), Hermann Prey with Leonard Hokanson (Philips, if you can find it)or Hans Hotter in a 3 CD set of his recordings from DG.
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on November 9, 2013
This is one of the standard recorded performances of this literature. Fischer-Dieskau was always a consummate interpreter with superb musical intelligence. His voice sometimes edged towards the bombastic. This performance is very good indeed, haunting at its best. The piano accompaniment is terrific.
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on January 13, 2016
I mistakenly bought the 3-CD box set with Gerald Moore when I replaced my LP box set of Winterreise. After listening a few times, despite the familiarity of the voice, I began to notice that the music seemed much less intense than what I was used to. After seeing the photo of the frozen stream I remembered that this was the box set I owned on vinyl, not the set with Gerald Moore. While I will keep that CD set, I am glad to have this version of Winterreise in my collection as my favorite recording of the piece.

DFD's approach on this recording is to present the character in an almost expressionist way, verging on madness as the cycle progresses. In lesser hands this approach could border on the insipid, but it works here masterfully. It is highly unlikely that a non-native speaker of German could ever present this song cycle in a remotely similar fashion.
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on January 12, 2016
I am writing this review having just listened to this recording for the first time. I'm familiar of course with DFD's later recordings especially the Gerald Moore version which introduced me to this music. However, this recording (listened to on a perfectly kept and freshly cleaned vinyl record) is extraordinary. The depth of emotion conveyed and the sublime beauty and sometimes agony of the great DFD makes this an essential addition to a musical collection. The final songs from Der Wegweiser onwards are heartbreaking. Jorg Demus piano playing is both sympathetic to the singer and it's sometimes plaintive non bombastic quality fits the music perfectly.
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on July 27, 2010
... to the acclaim Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau garnered for his performances and recordings of Schubert Lieder during his lifetime, or the adulation he still receives from listeners who weren't even born when he made this recording in 1966? Schubert's settings of twenty-six poems by the otherwise little-known German poet Wilhelm Müller rank among the ultimate masterworks of all music. If you've never heard them, your emotional life is still incomplete. Fischer-Dieskau recorded the cycle several times over the decades of his career, with various pianists accompanying him, particularly Gerald Moore. This recording, with pianist Jörg Demus, was the first I ever heard, either of the music or the singer; whether that accounts for my preferring it to any later recording, I can't be sure. But I do prefer it. My LPs of it have long been too scratchy to play, so I'm delighted to hear that this archival re-release sounds every bit as rich as my memory demands. Fischer-Dieskau was at the peak of his voice when he made this recording. He and Demus give a robust, masculine interpretation, without any mawkish excess; frankly, they don't need to milk the affect. Voice, accompaniment, and the music itself are affect enough.

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