SCHUBERT Winterreise • Peter Anders (ten); Michael Raucheisen (pn) • ACANTA 233690, mono (73:16)
This remarkable and unusual performance of Winterreise, recorded between February 23 and March 13, 1945, in Berlin at the time when the city was being bombed by the Allies, may properly be viewed as flawed but very intense. There is no question that both tenor and pianist are “in the moment,” giving a highly characterized reading of Müller’s poetry andRead more doing their best with the score, but with bombs bursting outside their studio all the while they were recording, neither participant knew if he would live to complete the cycle, thus no retakes were made. Susanne Anders, the tenor’s widow, recalled to the annotator for this CD of the frequent interruptions caused by air-raid alerts. It is significant, to me at least, that Anders rerecorded Winterreise with pianist Günther Weissenborn in October 1948, and this performance was issued. The liner notes do not make it clear whether this 1945 recording was released during Anders’s lifetime. A December 1999 article by Joseph Horowitz in the New York Times stated that it was then “newly issued” in Deutsche Grammophon’s Centenary Collection.
Regarding the musical lapses, at least a few of them are probably due to Raucheisen’s concept of style. Born nearly 20 years earlier than the tenor, in 1889, he represented an older style of Lieder singing when judicious rubato and rallentando effects were considered de rigeur in performance. Some of his earlier recordings were made with tenor Leo Slezak, another proponent of Lieder sung in relaxed tempos, so you may judge his aesthetic from that.
Perhaps the most egregious mistake—and I hold it to be an error and not a matter of interpretation—occurs near the end of “Gute nacht,” when Anders suddenly pauses to take a big breath before emitting a soft high note, which adds one beat to the bar. Raucheisen obligingly allows him this pause, only coming back in once his tenor is settled. Yet there are other moments, as in “Die Post,” where modern ears want to hear the steady galloping rhythm unimpeded, but Raucheisen lingers ever-so-slightly in certain phrases which distends the time. Thus I attribute some of the tempo relaxation in this performance to artistic choice. All in all, however, this performance is not nearly as distorted musically as the live performance by Jon Vickers once issued on VAI Audio. Both Anders and Vickers, however, direct the flow of the performance from a reading of the poetry, not the music. With war literally raging around him, Anders is more intense—there are little or no moments of repose in his singing despite the lovely soft passages. This is a completely different artistic viewpoint from that of our modern musical establishment, however, thus many listeners may find this reading to be musically invalid for that reason—yet the intensity of the interpretation really grips you, particularly “Der Leiermann” which almost seems to be sung through gritted teeth.
The sound quality is remarkably good for a recording of this vintage despite some sibilant blasting on the “s” sounds in “Der greise Kopf” and “Letzte Hoffnung.” The notes indicate that this was the first Winterreise recorded on magnetic tape and not on 78-rpm masters, which is probably true; they also say this is the first recording of it in the tenor key. As a complete performance, that is probably true, but in the late 1920s Richard Tauber recorded 12 of the 24 songs for Odeon (although at least one of them, “Gute nacht,” was heavily abridged to fit one side of a 10-inch 78). There is not a speck of noise on this recording, neither surface noise nor what the notes suggest may be “distant, muffled artillery fire during one or two Lieder and in pauses between them.” I listened to it through headphones and heard no such thing, though the sounds of Nazi artillery fire are clearly audible on Wanda Landowska’s 1940 Paris recordings of the Scarlatti sonatas. All in all, a remarkable document, well worth hearing.