Franz Schubert: Winterreise
Roman Trekel, baritone, Ulrich Eisenlohr, piano.

Naxos 8.554471 (B)  (DDD)  TT: 75:24

This fine rendition of Winterreise (“Winter Journey”) is the first volume in the Naxos Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition.  Between now and the year 2005, Naxos plans to issue all of Franz Schubert’s lieder, a project that will encompass more than 700 songs. The releases will be organized in accordance with the writers who inspired the particular songs. The project is the brainchild of pianists Stefan Laux and Ulrich Eisenlohr, the latter of whom serves as accompanist on the new Winterreise. The introduction contained in the CD booklet proclaims that for this Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition, Messrs. Laux and Eisenlohr have selected “the elite of today’s young German Lieder singers," performers whose artistic contribution, they believe, will stand the test of time.

The artist chosen to tackle Winterreise, the most challenging of the Schubert song-cycles, is baritone Roman Trekel. His name is new to me, although the biographical information contained in the CD booklet notes that he has been performing in opera and recital for almost fifteen years. Based upon this recording, I look forward to the opportunity to hear Mr. Trekel in the theater. He possesses a lovely high baritone that, especially in its upper reaches, may remind some of a young Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.  Perhaps Roman Trekel does not exhibit the extraordinary level of insight and interpretive nuance of a Fischer-Dieskau, but then, there are very few singers who do. On the positive side, Trekel avoids the occasional hyper-italicizing found in some Fischer-Dieskau performances that, at least to these ears, can sound mannered.

There are many aspects of Roman Trekel’s artistry that make for rewarding listening. In addition to the already noted attractive quality of his voice, Trekel displays an admirable legato, superb diction, and a broad palette of dynamics and colors. He also has a fine sense of a song’s architecture, so that the climaxes of such pieces as “Gefrorne Tränen” and “Die Krähe” are carefully sculpted and therefore, all the more effective. In all of this, Trekel is ably partnered by Ulrich Eisenlohr, who demonstrates a keen ear for the importance of the piano in the narrative. Listen, for example, to the marvelous articulation of the accompaniment in “Gefrorne Tränen” — the sense of the frozen teardrops falling from the narrator’s face is quite palpable.

The CD booklet contains the texts and translations of the Wilhelm Müller poems. In addition, where appropriate, Schubert’s alterations of the original texts are noted.  Of course, there are many superb recordings of this infinitely fascinating work. But the quality of this performance, coupled with the budget price, make this recording well worth investigating. All in all, this is a promising start to an ambitious project. I look forward to more from Roman Trekel, Ulrich Eisenlohr, Naxos, and, of course, Franz Schubert.

K.M. (Nov. 2000)