Ondine's compilation Essential Highlights of Jorma Hynninen, includes two complete earlier releases of Schubert song cycles, a 1989 version of Winterreise, and Die schöne Müllerin from 1988, both accompanied by Ralf Gothóni. Baritone Hynninen brings a voice with a warm, substantial tone capable of considerable power to these songs, but in Winterreise he uses it with great restraint. From start to finish, Hynninen's singing is absolutely gorgeous, beautifully produced, and achingly poignant. His use of his head voice in some of the high-lying passages seems absolutely right both musically and as an expression of the songs' emotion. While his singing has the utmost sophistication and his shaping of the lines is finely nuanced, there is something a little too reserved about his approach to the psychology of the protagonist. In the quieter songs, his singing is ideally sensitive, and songs like "Gute Nacht" are a marvel of tenderness and desire held closely in check, but there are others, such as "Erstarrung," where the singer's passions should sound like they're getting the best of him, and Hynninen fails to deliver the intensity the music and the text seem to call for. For the listener who is more interested in exquisite bel canto than in angst-ridden psychological probing, Hynninen's performance should be entirely satisfying.
Much the same could be said of his performance of Die schöne Müllerin. Particularly in the early songs, his singing has a studied artfulness and restraint that sound more calculated than freely spontaneous. It's a high bar to clear, to deliver the songs with an effortless sounding facility while at the same time giving the music an urgency that makes it sound like it is being made up on the spot, but it is the difference between a performance that is excellent and one that is sublime. His performance does gather authority as it progresses, and the final despairing songs seem to resonate more strongly with him and are more persuasive than the earlier, jauntier ones; "Der Müller und der Bach" is especially moving. Gothóni's playing is ideally sensitive to the music's mercurial shifts. Using changes in weight and emphasis and the subtlest rubato, he effectively conveys the emotional conflict of the songs. His playing has a memorable individuality that never veers into eccentricity and that adds depth to the whole performance. Ondine's immaculate sound is crystal clear and nicely present.