I agree completely with the two reviews here about how to rate this album -- the highest rating possible. This version of the cycle will, I think, prove to be a classic among classics.
It cannot and does not intend to supplant or replace the 1961 recording by Fischer-Dieskau (one of Goerne's teachers) and Gerald Moore. That version presents Schubert's cycle in the parameters of late German classicism -- as a work modeled on Beethoven's "An die Ferne Geliebte" as indicated in the recording itself by the inclusion of the spoken "Prologue" and "Epilogue" (not included in the original publication of the songs in 1824)which reflect the humor and self-deprecation of the German classic period (and relate to the songs in the same fashion as the hempen homespuns' production of the Tragedy of Pyramus & Thisbe relates to A Midsummer Night's Dream). That interpretation by a singer with one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century and who spent his life studying Schubert and by one of the great accompanists of the 20th century has become, for many, standard, although, because of the originality and talent of F-D and Moore, generally out of the reach of most singers. For those who have never heard "Die Schöne Müllerin", the F-D/Moore interpretation is probably still the best place to begin.
This interpretation by Goerne and Eschenbach, while it can be listened to completely on its own as extremely beautiful and powerfully creative, can best be understood with relation to the "standard" interpretation. Without any sacrifice of fidelity to the music, it interprets this song cycle written in 1823 when Schubert was 26 (he died in 1828 at 31) as a work of European Romanticism. The interpretation brings out what composers such as Schumann, Liszt, and Mahler heard in this work and, to my mind, makes very clear that what they heard with the seeds of their elaboration of it really is there in Schubert's music. For those very familiar with these songs, listening to this interpretation will, I think, leave them feeling as if they are hearing them again for the first time -- not as erratic though sometimes insightful performances of individual songs, but as a completely intentional and integrated interpretation of the entire cycle. It is an amazing achievement.
When I heard Goerne and Eschenbach perform live at Ravinia this summer (before I heard the album), my reaction to the first three songs ("Das Wandern" "Wohin" and "Halt") was to wonder why the "accompanist" (a truly great musician in his own right) seemed to be choosing the cadences and rhythms which operate against the vocal line. Suddenly, I realized why the pianist was sitting slightly forward of the singer (piano on a considerable diagonal). It is not an "accompaniment." It is an integral part of a through-composed work. The piano accompaniment is as important in this work as in Schumann's "Dichterliebe" and it is the inner voices (including rhythmic) in the accompaniment which tie the cycle together. One becomes acutely conscious of listening to two instruments at once: the piano and the human voice. That this interaction was precisely Schubert's intention can hardly be doubted, since the piano creates, until the very end of the cycle (when the brook speaks through the singer), the voice of the brook to which the singer repeatedly addresses himself. In addition, in several of these interpretations, one becomes intensely aware (because of Goerne's truly remarkable voice and musicality) of the resonances which are not on the fundamental pitch as is also the case for the piano.
The upshot of the consistent application of these techniques (which include Goerne's almost incomparable legato singing and unbelievable breath control allowing six bars to be covered at slow tempo without a breath) is the emphasis on what I think is the most fundamental emotion of this cycle and of much of Schubert's Lieder output: Sehnsucht (yearning). It is a powerful emotion which seeks transcendence. If you dim the lights and listen to this album, you will find, I think, that from No. 16 ("Die liebe Farbe" - "The Dear Color") through to the end ("Des Baches Wiegenlied" - "The Brook's Lullaby"), the interpretation succeeds completely (a success predicated on what has gone before). It may even bring you to tears. It gives a deeper meaning to the final words: "und der Himmel daoben, wie ist er so weit" ("and the heaven above, how very wide it is").