Schubert's Winterreise begins with a scenic specificity as strong as any opera's: the place and landmarks of one now-lost love. As much as they torment the protagonist, and as intently as he flees that scene, he is stuck close among them for much of the cycle's first half (written as a unit by Schubert before he discovered the rest of Müller's opus). This immediacy asks for viscerally dramatic realization, and it is here that a stage star like Peter Anders can really shine.
Christoph Prégardien, who sang the whole piece at Alice Tully Hall on Sunday, is a lightish (though now darker-sounding) tenor without that operatic breadth of vocal resource. This was a handicap at the start: the first songs' rage and sorrow were dulled by Prégardien's apparent need to manage sonic and emotional extremes instead of exploiting them. (This is, I think, the gist of Maury's complaint about Guelfi's Rigoletto.) So maybe it wasn't so bad that the hall's fire alarm went off not once but twice -- water pressure in another building, went the official explanation -- causing Prégardien and his straightforward accompanist Dennis Helmrich to walk offstage after "Auf dem Flusse".
They came back to applause and a song or two of nervous unsteadiness, but soon reached a more congenial point. For the hero does escape love's immediate pangs -- this is the motion of that first half-cycle. Eventually, he puts sleep between them... and from then his personal history is reflected in ever more distant metaphor (in the ever more empty world), until pared down to a missing pair of suns. In this less overtly dramatically-strenuous part of the cycle Prégardien excelled, beginning with an unhysterical but wholly effective "Frülingstraum". The disillusioning shock of awakening, the hope-draining return to cold -- these seemed as if for the first time experienced plainly, by one inclined neither to expect more nor complain.
Perceptive simplicity served Prégardien well through the very tricky final songs. His wanderer, with distance from the sharp reactions of love -- and everything else! -- showed himself human and truthful: not, as is a danger, emptily overblown. So if Prégardien, like Wordsworth, needs a bit of admixed tranquility to best show his emotional art, it seems petty to complain.