"A crow has flown back and forth over my head"
José van Dam, bass-baritone; Dalton Baldwin, piano. Forlane, recorded in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon (France), January 1990
Wolfgang Holzmair, baritone; Imogen Cooper, piano. Philips, recorded in Salzburg, November 1994
Olaf Bär, baritone; Geoffrey Parsons, piano. EMI, recorded in London, December 1988
I haven't been writing much lately -- well, at all, at least not that I've actually posted. (I don't expect the reasons are of any importance to anyone but me.) One day this week "Die Krähe" ("The Crow"), no. 15 of the 24 songs of Schubert's Winterreise (Winter Journey), the all but unique song cycle (the only close kin I'm aware of is Schubert's own Die schöne Müllerin, also set to poems by Wilhelm Müller) popped into my head and wouldn't go away. You know how that goes, right? Sometimes you can trace by which the thing lodged in your brain, but sometimes you can't, and I still can't figure how "Die Krähe" took possession of me. More worryingly, I'm not sure what to make of it -- I can't help feeling there's nothing good about it.
I started gathering recordings, in particular by singers I respect who've made multiple recordings of Winterreise. Some of you may have seen this compendium taking shape, since for technical reasons the pile proved easier to keep track of and spot-check in posted form. One thing I discovered quickly is how surprisingly different performances of the song are. "Surprisingly" different because, suggestive as the song is, it's such an unassuming one that I don't think the considerable differences in tone and emphasis (what does this whole overflight-by-crow business mean to the singer-narrator, let alone to us?) necessarily register. If you want a real jolt, listen in succession to the 1954 and 1961 Hotter recordings.
The 1962 Fischer-Dieskau and 1961 Prey take pride of place here, likely because the former's 1962 Winterreise and the latter's 1961 one were my first recordings of the cycle. (And I still enjoy the latter a lot. The Fischer-Dieskau Winterreise I really like, from which we've heard excerpts, is the 1971 DG one with Gerald Moore.) The singleton performances up top, by the way, are simply by performers whose Winterreise recordings I really enjoy.
I should probably want to talk about this a little. Who knows? Maybe I will. One thought for now, though: If "creepy" in the post title doesn't sound quite right, how about "spooky"? "Morbid"? "Foreboding"? For that matter, "pretty" isn't quite what I mean, I don't think. But isn't there something decidedly and weirdly, um, charming about a song whose subject matter is so weird?
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Klaus Billing, piano. Broadcast performance, Berlin, Jan. 19, 1948 (mono)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Gerald Moore, piano. EMI, recorded in Berlin, Jan. 13-14, 1955 (mono)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Gerald Moore, piano. EMI, recorded 1962
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Jörg Demus, piano. DG, recorded 1966
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Gerald Moore, piano. DG, recorded in Berlin, August 1971
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Alfred Brendel, piano. Philips, recorded in Berlin, July 1985
[This by no means exhausts even Fischer-Dieskau's commercial Winterreise recordings. When, with great difficulty, I rolled aside an audio cart that blocks the relevant section of my LP shelves, I found a 1979-ish DG one with Daniel Barenboim which I'd forgotten about, and even after the Brendel version there's a 1990 Sony one (audio and video) with Murray Perahia.]
Hermann Prey, baritone; Karl Engel, piano. EMI, recorded in Berlin, October 1961
Hermann Prey, baritone; Irwin Gage, piano. Italian Swiss Radio performance, Locarno, Oct. 2, 1978
Hermann Prey, baritone; Philippe Bianconi, piano. Denon, recorded in Hamburg, Apr. 3-6, 1984
Hans Hotter, bass-baritone; Michael Raucheisen, piano. DG, recorded in Berlin, November 1942 (mono)
Hans Hotter, bass-baritone; Hans Schörter, piano. Live performance from Frankfurt, Mar. 27, 1947 (mono)
Hans Hotter, bass-baritone; Gerald Moore, piano. EMI, recorded in London, May 24-29, 1954 (mono)
Hans Hotter, bass-baritone; Erik Werba, piano. DG, recorded in Vienna, Dec. 15-18, 1961
[There's also an April 1969 live performance from Tokyo with pianist Hans Dokoupil, recorded and released by Japanese Columbia, which I've been curious about since I first learned it exists but have never been able to lay hands on.]
Jon Vickers, tenor; Geoffrey Parsons, piano. EMI, recorded in Paris, July 9-13, 1983
Jon Vickers, tenor; Peter Schaaf, piano. VAI, live performance in Canada, Oct. 2, 1983