Tuesday 1 May 2018

The story of a journey: Roderick Williams & Christopher Glynn in Schubert's Winter Journey

Schubert Winter Journey - Roderick Williams, Christopher Glynn - Signum Classics
Schubert Winter Journey (Winterreise); Roderick Williams, Christopher Glynn; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 April 2018 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★)
Schubert's great song cycle in a highly communicative performance showcasing Jeremy Sams new English translation

This disc from Signum Classics follows on from the performances at the Ryedale Festival and the Wigmore Hall of Jeremy Sams' translation of Schubert's three great song cycles. Here Roderick Williams (baritone) and Christopher Glynn (piano) perform Schubert's Winter Journey (Winterreise).

I have interviewed a number of singers, including baritone Benjamin Appl [see my interview], who have talked about the challenge of getting the audience to understand what the song is about, using colour and emotion, without them completely understanding the language in which the singer is singing. But there are drawbacks, the sea of heads bent down reading the song texts and not watching the singer's expressive face. Pianist Gary Matthewman has experimented, with some success, with projecting the text. We might say 'lieder with surtitles' with horror, but I thought the experiment worked very well.

Pianist Christopher Glynn's project to create new English versions of Schubert's three major song-cycles started, partly, with a recording of Harry Plunkett Greene (a keen recitalist and Hubert Parry's son-in-law) singing Schubert's 'Der Leiermann' in English [you can hear it on YouTube, it was recorded in 1934 when Plunkett Greene was 68 or 69]; like many of his generation, Plunkett Greene prized communication with his audience (I have fond memories of discovering Isobel Baillie's recordings of lieder in English as a student). Sams' translations were commissioned by Glynn and the Ryedale Festival and performed there and at the Wigmore Hall. I did not hear Roderick Williams and Christopher Glynn perform Winter Journey live, alas, but I did manage to catch John Tomlinson and Christopher Glynn performing Swan Song and was very much struck by the change in communicability that moving to English made.

The translations by Jeremy Sams have achieved a nice combination of approachability, singability, directness and poetry. Listening to Roderick Williams performing Winter Journey, it is remarkable how much being able to understand every word transforms the experience. It shouldn't really, after all most of us know what Winterreise is about and what happens in each of the songs. But hearing music and words and comprehending both transforms the songs back into sung poetry.

There is the narrative detail of course, the way the verbal and musical gestures mesh. But also the sense of a wider journey, the feeling that this really is an interconnected story, not just 24 episodes and of course Roderick Williams is a superb story-teller. Both Glynn and Williams give a very thoughtful, considered performance which is fluidly narrative. As you might expect, Williams is a well-balanced and well-modulated protagonist, mellifluously and thoughtfully sung. Instead of being over-wrought, Williams creates the sense of an ordinary everyman laid low, with puzzlement and bleakness gradually taking over.

I cannot think of a more beautifully sung account of this cycle, but that is only part of the story because story it is. Williams uses his voice, in all its flexibility, to create a profoundly moving tale of a man's journey. Williams uses a lot more voice than Plunkett Green (but is significantly younger!), yet there is still a similar emphasis on the expressiveness of the text. And 'The Hurdy-gurdy Man' is a wonderfully eerie and disturbing end to the powerful story of a journey.

This is an amazing disc, not the Winterreise to end all Winterreises but an essential complement to them. I gather that Glynn and Signum have recordings the other two cycles up their sleeve, which is good news indeed.

Schubert (1797-1828) - Winter Journey (translated Jeremy Sams)
Roderick Williams (baritone)
Christopher Glynn (piano)
Recorded in St Silas Church, Kentish Town, 13-15 February 2017.
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Welcome to the Magical Garden or perhaps the Garden of Magic: the piano music of Robert Saxton (★★★★) - CD review
  • Philip Venables' 4:48 Psychosis returns (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Thrilling revival: Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at Covent Garden (★★★★★) - Opera review
  • Striking double in Clapham: Shadwell Opera debuts a new work with powerful Janacek song-cycle (★★★½) - opera review
  • Music from Handel's London Theatre Orchestra (★★★★)  - CD review
  • Passio: from Tallis & Purcell to Kevin Hartnett via Bach (★★★)  - CD review
  • Out of the parlour and into the recital room - Hubert Parry's English lyrics (★★★★)  -  CD review
  • Beethoven unbound and Schubert cycles, I chat to Welsh pianist Llŷr Williams - interview
  • Bernstein, Debussy, Parry, Smyth, Bridge, Boulanger, Owen - BBC Proms 2018 - preview
  • What an unalloyed joy! And if all this isn’t advert enough for some sensible funding I don’t know what is (★★★★) - concert review
  • Songs of Vain Glory: Sophie Bevan & Sebastian Wybrew (★★★★) - CD review
  • William Billings to contemporary Icelandic & Finnish music: Skylark's Seven Words on the Cross (★★★) - CD review
  • Missa Tulerunt Dominum Meum: Siglo de Oro (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Returning home: Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen at Oper Leipzig (★★★★)  - Opera review
  • Home

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