The graphics don't give you much information on what's going on here besides a small print listing of the instruments: what you have here is basically a klezmer version of Schubert's song cycle Die Winterreise, D. 911. Die Winterreise has undergone various arrangements before, some of them wilder than this one, and there are various motivations for subjecting the song cycle to this treatment. First, as the members of Montreal's Le Chimera Project say, is "to find a way of divorcing ourselves from the media/scholarly tradition and return to the music itself to see what it inspired in us." Another is to stress the simplicity of Schubert's melodies, their folkishness, and a third is to note how some of them entered the vernacular tradition, like street musicians playing tunes from Verdi operas. These goals don't always cohere, and in some of the songs, like Gefrorne Tränen (sample this), the accompaniment seems too peppy. The use of an actual hurdy-gurdy in Der Leiermann transforms a touching allusion into something straightforward and plain. In general though, there's a lot to be said for Le Chimera Project's experimental approach. The vocal line is left alone, and baritone Philippe Sly focuses effectively on sticking to his own reading despite all that's going on around him. The arrangements are not straight klezmer readings, but generally reduce the ensemble to a trio or even less (Die Nebensonne unexpectedly gets a solo piano). The result is that the cycle is not smoothed out into a single affect but develops along the way. To an extent this competes with the narrative of Die Winterreise itself, but there's genuinely novel thinking at work here, of the sort that will appeal to listeners with a speculative frame of mind. Analekta's tendency to record everything in the same Montreal church is especially regrettable here; the music needed a much more intimate setting.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim