After a decade at the top rank of English baritones, Maltman will turn forty this year, a good time to record Schubert's Winterreise -- a singer's voice is still capable of sounding like a young man rejected in love while there is enough experience to offer a notable interpretation. I was impressed by Maltman's previous Schubert release of Die Schone Mullerin. Like it, this recital comes from the acoustically favorable Wigmore Hall in London. Many of the same virtues hold good, too - here is a singer determined to be personal, with a lovely range of expression and a thoughtful approach to each song. There's a natural vivacity in Maltman's singing that is immediately appealing, and he can lighten his voice to take advantage of its easy upper reach, which is almost tenorish. (Ten songs are sung in the original tenor keys, the rest are transposed from half a step to a minor third).
Since the piano part is so important, however, let me admit that I do not much favor Graham Johnson's playing. It is professional and accomplished but never really imaginative, and in passages where the composer repeats the same simple figures over and over -- a common practice in this cycle -- Johnson goes on automatic pilot. Too often I feel that the singer is doing all the work; the partnership of another English duo. Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis, is more balanced. Johnson's deficits make for a dull opening. 'Gute Nacht' all but plods, and 'Die Wetterfahne' has almost no life, hard as Maltman tries to inject some. Unfortunately, Schubert wrote such interesting piano parts in this cycle that having a very ordinary accompanist is a major drawback. I wonder if Johnson's age might not be a factor here; he was never brilliant, but the energy level is much too low.
I don't know how to apprise Maltman's contribution on its own, because a singer can never be truly on his own. In a slow, mysterious song like the very last, 'Der Leiermann,' Maltman is as good as any singer I've ever heard, and yet when a song requires more speed and intensity, he is held back by Johnson. Not everyone feels so strongly about the piano in lieder recitals, so for them this may be a more enjoyable recording.
P.S. - amazon has made it hard to find, but there is a third Schubert recital by Maltman, this one from April 2010, devoted to Schwanengesang. It's as good as the previous two and just as well recorded by the engineers at Wigmore Hall. One could wish for a more dramatic accompanist than Graham Johnson, but in general he, too, is in good form. In any case, Maltman strikes me as a more genuine and feeling lieder singer than many of his more famous rivals.
Here's a link to the new recording: