The best live performance of Die Winterreise I ever heard took place in Edinburgh many years ago. The singer was a young German tenor, at that time completely unknown to me. His name was Jonas Kaufmann. I understand that Kaufmann’s recording of Winterreise has just been released; I cannot wait to get my hands on it.
Winterreise was composed for a high voice. When sung by a lower voice, the songs have to be transposed. There is nothing wrong with that but the character of the songs changes. When performed by a singer with a dark voice like Hans Hotter or Thomas Quasthoff, there is a correspondence between the darkness of the songs and that of the singer’s voice. But when we hear a tenor, the brightness of the voice and the sadness of the songs give us a poignant contrast. This tenor, Jan Kobow, is able to cope with the high tessitura of these songs but he also has a very even low register. The pianist Christoph Hammer is also very good; he plays not a modern grand but a fortepiano of the period (an early 19th century Brodmann).
The accompanying booklet is informative but the English translation is full of mistakes: “re majeur” is D major, not D flat major; C minor, not B minor, is the relative minor of E flat major; and so on. I also regret that the wanderer of the poems is called “a hiker.”
Of the available recordings with a tenor, I think my personal preference is with Christoph Prégardien, but that may change once I hear the new Kaufmann!