CD review: Joyce DiDonato and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Winterreise

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Schubert: Winterreise

Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, piano

Erato 190295284138

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Schubert’s late song cycle Winterreise (Winter’s Journey) is based on poems by Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827), one of the composer’s contemporaries. Like Schubert, he died young, at the age of only 32. The poems and the song cycle tell no story as such; they simply express the pain of unrequited love. While the composer intended the song cycle for a tenor voice, it has sometimes been performed by women. In fact, there are outstanding recordings by women of the stature of Lotte Lehmann, Brigitte Fassbaender, Christa Ludwig and our own Lois Marshall. In her recording (DG 4233662) Ludwig is accompanied by James Levine, former music director of the Metropolitan Opera. His successor at the Met, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, is the accompanist on this new recording.

Unlike the aforementioned female singers, Joyce DiDonato has little experience as a lieder singer. Nonetheless, listening to her performance one marvels at how convincingly she has made the adjustment to a new musical genre. DiDonato has made her reputation as a lyric-coloratura mezzo-soprano, particularly in operas by Handel, Mozart and Rossini. There is no call for technical fireworks in Winterreise but rather a gift for expressing feelings in a quasi-conversational way through words and music. And both DiDonato and Nézet-Séguin rise to the occasion. Just listen to the understated and mostly sotto voce but deeply moving renderings of “Der Lindenbaum and “Rast.” There have been many fine recordings of Winterreise – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Peter Schreier, Matthias Goerne and Peter Pears come to mind – but this new one repays careful listening. 

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About Author

Former conductor and broadcaster, Paul E. Robinson, is the author of four books on conductors, Digital Editor for Classical Voice America, and a regular contributor to La Scena Musicale.

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