What with winter travel having been the top of the news for weeks, it's fitting that a fine new recording of Schubert's Winterreise (Linn) (from the UK, no less) should appear. After the proverbial "heavy weather" Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis made of Schubert's greatest song cycle earlier this year (Harmonia Mundi), to raves from the obedient British press, bass-baritone Peter Harvey and fortepianist Gary Cooper, fellow Brits to be sure, have arrived to clear the air.
Like Padmore and Lewis, they have returned to original sources with the express wish of making music something like Schubert himself would have heard. Besides enlisting a Paul Winston copy of an 1832 Brodmann fortepiano - from the very decade in which Winterreise was composed - they've turned to a more historically sensitive performing style. Harvey, whose own translations of the 24 Wilhelm Mueller poems are used in the booklet, also provides a deeply insightful essay about the work and the pair's artistic intentions in performing it as they do. And to top it all off, Linn, which deservedly just won Gramophone's Label of the Year Award, presents the results in jaw-droppingly good, bell-clear sound.
If it did nothing more than show up the Padmore-Lewis - with its attention-seeking, harmony-grinding "Der Leiermann" at the end - for the hoax it is, it would be welcome. But it does something far more subtle and involving by moving through the music with integrity, devoid of such sensationalism. The music has rarely been laid out this plainly, its famous bareness the easier to appreciate. Theirs is a cycle that - from what seems dangerously like tinkling in the keyboard and preciousness in the delivery of the strophes of "Gute Nacht" - sneaks up on you.