There have been countless recorded interpretations of Schubert’s song cycle « Winterreise », and yet once you start listening to Peter Mattei, you will likely forget past recordings and be totally enthralled by this newly released recording. Mattei’s rich and deep barytone voice expresses with many nuances the complexity of Schubert’s music and his diction is quite miraculous in terms of clarity. Lars David Nilsson’s accompaniment is equally striking by its expressive strength and clarity.
Franz Schubert first wrote a set of twelve songs, based on poems written by Wilhelm Müller, in February 1827, and then wrote the remaining twelve songs in October of the same year. The two sets of songs were originally published separately, before being assembled to form the cycle of songs we know as the « Winterreise » or « Winter Journey ». The songs tell the story of a young man who is rejected by the woman he loves and decides to leave his house to wander in a wintery landscape. This song cycle is a profound meditation on human existence, unrequited love, love and death. It is deeply taxing for the interpreters, not only because of the technical challenges it presents for the singer and the pianist, but because it requires them to dig deep inside their own fears and insecurities, to confront themselves with suffering and the darkness that exists at the core of every human being. To Joseph von Spaun, one of his best friends, Schubert himself admitted that the Winterreise were a « cycle of terrirfying songs », which caused much agitation to the composer and probably « contributed to his early death » according to Spaun.
Originally composed for tenor voice, the Winterreise has long been transposed for other vocal ranges, and there has been a long tradition of barytones singing this song cycle, from Dietrich Fischer-Diskau to Matthias Goerne. Peter Mattei’s powerful and rich voice, his command of the German language, his musical intelligence and deep sensitivity are an ideal combination in this recording, and he has found his match in the pianist Lars David Nilsson. Together they make every single note and word count. They make the music flow so effortlessly, with such a striking, yet restrained, sense of drama, that you just have to close your eyes and follow Schubert’s winter journey into an abyss of despair.