Fanfare Magazine Reviews Winterreise by Jesse Blumberg & Martin Katz
The list of superb recordings of Schubert’s great final cycle is too long to even consider anointing any one “the greatest.” And quite frankly this monumental journey is too complex to be fully realized in any one rendering. With deeply personal and moving performances by Fischer-Dieskau and Moore, Ludwig and Levine, Goerne and Brendel, Schreier and Richter, Quastoff and Barenboim, and Kaufmann and Deutsch (among others), one might be forgiven for wondering whether the marketplace needs another.
The answer becomes clear as soon as you start listening: Yes, the marketplace needs this one. The American baritone Jesse Blumberg may not have the most distinctive timbre, but his attractive and warm baritone is extraordinarily flexible in terms of vocal coloration, which is crucial to a successful performance of Winterreise. Also crucial is a highly imaginative pianist, and Martin Katz is all that and more. Together, these two have made a recording deserving of being mentioned with the finest.
Katz and Blumberg have worked together consistently over time, and they display total communication, a sense that each is listening to the other. They seem to be conversing with each other through the music. Both, for example, vividly demonstrate the contrast between “Mut” and “Die Nebensonnen,” two songs near the end of the cycle. We hear defiance and strength in “Mut,” and resignation in “Die Nebensonnen.” We hear this in the dynamic shading, the phrase-shaping, the vocal color and the color of the piano. Immediately prior to those two is “Das Wirtshaus,” a song which begins “My way has led me to a graveyard. Here I’ll stop, I told myself.” Then, the inn turns the poet away because all rooms are full. The weariness and the pain are clear in the first notes of the piano, and the entrance of the voice.
Katz of course is one of the great collaborative pianists before the public, and has decades of experience. Blumberg is a younger singer, but he has plumbed the depths of these songs. His diction is exemplary, which helps, and the performance fits the overall ideal for Lieder singing—it should be like pitched conversation. In the case of Winterreise it is essential that the performers bring enough variety of inflection and color to the cycle that we not tire of hearing the poet lament his lot in life. Both Blumberg and Katz manage that exquisitely. “Gefrorne Tränen” (Frozen Tears) is a perfect example. They begin with hushed tones (“Frozen drops are falling down from my cheeks”); we can almost see the teardrops in Katz’s introduction, and then Blumberg enters with a tone of utter emptiness. By song’s end, though, his bitterness and anguished pain are almost explosively conveyed.
The recorded sound is ideal, favoring neither the voice nor the piano. There are no accompanying notes except for brief biographies of the two performances, but complete text and translation are provided. Even if you have favorite recordings of Winterreise in your collection, this one shouldn’t be overlooked. Henry Fogel