Thursday 16 January 2014

Die Winterreise at the Wigmore Hall

Gerald Finley - Photo Credit: Sim Canetty-Clarke
Gerald Finley
Photo Sim Canetty-Clarke

Die Winterreise: Gerald Finley and Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 15 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Sombre grave beauty and a sense of bleak inner calm in the face of adversity.

Bass-baritone Gerald Finley and pianist Julius Drake performed Schubert's Die Winterreise at the Wigmore Hall last night (16 January 2014) at the start of a 10 date tour (to Spain, Canada and the USA). Their recording of the work is being released on Hyperion in March 2014. Finley's Die Winterreise is sombre with a grave beauty, and a sense of a bleak inner calm in the face of adversity. 
Singing the Schubert's cycle in lower keys inevitably brings a greater gravity and darkness to the cycle and Finley and Drake's steady speeds emphasised this. But Finley sang with a superb sense of line, which combined with fine diction and attention to the words, plus the beauty of his voice to make the performance very particular and very moving. Throughout the performance I kept coming back to the way Finley made the words of prime importance, without ever compromising the sense of an ever unfolding musical line.

This was clear from the outset where Julius Drake's introduction to Gute Nacht was a long line drawing you in, matched by Finley on his first entry. Here and elsewhere there was a lovely even tone to Finley's voice, with a magical hush for the closing lines, but still clarity of text. The performance was riveting and dramatic, but in no sense operatic. The strongest sense being a feeling of bleak resignation underlying things.

Die Wetterfahne was started vividly by Drake, and Finley positively spat out the words giving a strongly sarcastic feel when mentioning his former beloved. By contrast Gefrorne Tranen was very inward and intensely felt, complemented by Drake's quietly characterful piano. Finley created the picture of a very upright young man, made bitter.This carried over into Erstarrung where Finley's concentrated numbness was contrasted with Drake's busy piano. They gave the feeling of reaching breaking point by the end of the song.

Der Lindenbaum was characterised by a profound beauty of tone and wonderful control, with the song getting bleaker and more desperate before returning to the grave beauty of the opening. In Wasserflut Finley made the most of the darkly burnished tone of his voice in the lower range, mining a deep vein of melancholy. There was a steady gravity to the performance, with a sense of inner pain, which made it very particular.

Auf dem Flusse was mesmerisingly controlled and quiet, but very intense, Finley's voice contrasting with Drake's highly articulate piano playing. Towards the end you felt the the poet might break down completely and this sense of being overwhelmed continued into the next song, Ruckblick which combined Drake's vivid, stormy piano with Finley spitting out words. Irrlicht was simply magical, with Drake's fine piano playing accompanying Finley's lovely resonant lower register.

The two performers brought a sense of weary trudge to Rast and, not for the first time, I marvelled at how Finely could sing with such beauty of tone while suggesting so much depth of feeling. Fruhlingstraum started with evoking a simpler happier time, contrasted with a very vivid and jagged present. In Einsamkeit we started with a sense of unfolding line, quiet, intense, inward and calm. But the contrast between the piano and voice developed so as to almost expressionist, highlighting the inner pain of the poet.

With Die Post we return, to a certain extent, back to the beginning but though Finley sang this in a more positive way there was a sense that the poet was still full of regret and anxiety. Der greise Kopf was beautiful but eerie, with intense resignation and hints of despair. In Die Krahe Finley drew us on with a very fine, intense musical line, but with certain phrases such as Krahe, wunderliches Tier picked out vividly.

Again in Letzte Hoffnung there was a feeling of Drake's highly articulated piano complementing Finley's more lyrical vocal line. They made the song unnerving, with Finley bringing some lovely colours to the words. Im Dorfe continued this with Drake making the accompaniment rather evocative and disturbing, certainly something more than murmuring. Thus disturbing Finley's memories of happier times, till the last verse where had brought a wonderful edge to his tone. Der sturmische Morgen was vivid and intense in both voice and piano.

Tauschung was full of charm and delight. All delusion of course, and both performers gave the song a sense of underlying melancholy. Der Wegweiser was sung by Finley with fine-grained tone and a feeling of resignation. There was a lovely inner bleak calmness to the third verse and the final verse was mesmerisingly quiet. The feeling of bleak quiet continued into the first verse of Das Wirtshaus but the performers rose to full intensity at the end.

They gave Mut! very much a sense of whistling in the dark, with Finley suggesting that the poet was trying to kid himself. In Die Nebensonne Finley combined beauty of tone with profundity of feeling, bringing his voice right down at the end and giving a sense of profound resignation. In the final song, Der Leierman both voice and piano were reduced down to almost nothing with Finley giving a feeling of bleak, numbness.

Finley's view of Die Winterreise was characterised by its soberness and gravity, with a strong sense of the inner life of the poet. In a way, this made the most of the dark tints which his voice brought to the cycle especially performed in lower keys. All great artists re-make a work like Die Winterreise in their own images and Finley and Drake were no different. This is definitely a performance I would like to return to and cannot wait to hear the recording.

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