For some of us who have loved and lost, there are fates worse than death. Madness -- madness is a fate worse than death. To live, but not to know, or to be, who we are. To live, without love, without hope, without death, without knowing even who we are. Madness. Schubert knew this, knew this to the depths of his soul and feared it. And out of his fear he wrote the greatest monument to love lost, to death lost, to madness found. He wrote Die Winterreise, the most hopeless art work ever conceived by the despairing mind of man.
These days the province of baritones, Winterreise was originally intended for a tenor. One suspects that black pessimism of Winterreise has made it seem more appropriate to the baritone's darker range than to the brighter tone of a lyric tenor. But is spiritual depth dependent on register? The almost unbearable intensity of tenor Peter Schreier's performance with pianist Sviatoslav Richter argues that it is not.
Six years after that recording, Schreier returned to the cycle with the distinguished Schubert pianist Andras Schiff. If their recording does not plumb the stygian depths of the earlier recording, if Schreier's voice sounds a bit frayed, if Schiff's insight into the accompaniments are not Richter's, theirs is still a superb interpretation. The gloom of "The Signpost," the resignation of "The Guest House," the agony of "Courage!," the hymn-like despair of "The Rival Suns," and the numbed madness of "The Hurdy-Gurdy Man" -- in these passages, Schreier and Schiff are the equal of any but Schreier and Richter.