Winterreise – Sydney Schubert Society
Independent Theatre, North Sydney
20 August 2017
Written by Deen Hamaker
Franz Schubert’s Winterreise is one of the pinnacles of the lieder repertoire. It tells of a lonely person’s journey into a bleak winter landscape of snow, ice and bare trees. The 24 songs that make up the cycle explore lost love and melancholy as the singer describes a metaphysical journey through the snow. Composed in 1827 late in Schubert’s life, the work is on an epic scale based on a book of poetry by Wilheim Müller. Schubert channelled his mastery of lieder into this song cycle that rivals some operas with its emotional intensity. Winterreise had a major influence on all lieder that came after it. Schubert always wanted to be a successful opera composer and while some of his operas have started to appear sporadically, it his song cycles, particularly Winterreise, where we can see his genius at marrying voice and piano to create a deeply emotional work.
The Sydney Schubert Society had announced Barry Ryan to sing the full cycle of 24 songs. But unfortunately, was indisposed and unable to perform. With less than 24 hours it was fortuitous that the Schubert Society was able to put together a wonderful alternative programme. Two wonderful soloists sang selections from Winterreise together with another late Schubert work, his Piano Trio in B flat major, forming the second half of the concert.
In the first half of the programme, two young soloists sang selections from Winterreise. Baritone Lewis Barber gave wonderful performance of Der Lindenbaum (The Linden Tree) and Der Leiermann (The Hurdy-Gurdy man) as well as a spoken passage from Der stürmische Morgen (The Stormy Morning). He sang with commanding authority and grace. The remaining 10 selections were taken by soprano Julie Paik. She has an exceptional lyric voice with the power demanded by the big sections and a softness that she plies with excellent effect. Her German was excellent and she brilliantly expressed the anguish and melancholy of the text. Her fluency and style conveyed the emotion of the songs very well.
Performing in both halves of the programme on piano was Jeanell Carrigan. Throughout the first half she accompanied with sensitivity and dexterity. Having mastered the accompaniment to the entire cycle for the concert, the last-minute change of soloists meant that she had to restudy the songs in different keys adjusting for the soprano and tenor ranges. You would never have known it! Ms Corrigan played with great lyricism and agility. She brought colour and verve to the starkness of text being sung.
The concert continued in the second half with a beautiful rendition of Schubert’s Piano Trio in B flat major. Joining Ms Carrigan was cellist Minah Choe and Goetz Richter, violinist and president of the Sydney Schubert Society. Another late work composed by Schubert in 1827, one year before his death, the piano trio appears at first glance as a sunny bright piece written largely in the style of Viennese coffee houses. But lying underneath this surface are seething tensions as themes intersect and tussle in the music. Just below the joy of life, there are passions boiling away. Ms Carrigan continued her excellent work from the first half and played the trio beautifully; Goetz Richter’s passion for this music was palpable. His playing was incisive and bright; Minah Choe’s playing of the cello part was excellent. Considering the very late change in plans, the trio’s performance was impressive, responding to each other with great empathy despite less than 24 hours’ notice to prepare this piece for performance.
This was a joyous celebration of Schubert’s music. Beautifully played and sung, the programs of the Schubert Society deserve serious interest.
Deen Hamaker for SoundsLikeSydney©
Deen Hamaker is a passionate opera aficionado and commentator. Introduced to theatre, opera and classical music at a very young age, he has acted in and directed several theatre productions, both in Australia and overseas. Deen lived in Japan for several years and studied the performing arts of Asia. Deen’s particular passion is opera, particularly the Russian, French and Modern repertoire. Deen was a contributing author for “Great, Grand and Famous Opera Houses”, 2012. Fluent in Japanese, Deen holds a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese from Griffith University and currently lives in Sydney.