Wednesday, 25 July 2018

A disturbing journey: Schubert's Winterreise from Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake

Angelika Kirchschlager (Photo Nikolaus Karlinsky)
Angelika Kirchschlager (Photo Nikolaus Karlinsky)
Schubert Winterreise; Angelika Kirchschlager, Julius Drake; Temple Song at Temple Church Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 July 2018 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
The great Austrian mezzo-soprano sings her first Winterreise, an intense and powerful event

The Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager is the latest in a series of distinguished mezzos to take on the challenge of Schubert's Winterreise. At a Temple Song recital at Temple Church on 24 July 2018 accompanied by pianist Julius Drake, Angelika Kirchschlager gave her first public performance of Winterreise.

Temple Church is perhaps not an ideal place for a lieder recital, but such was Angelika Kirchschlager's identification with the work and her vivid projection of text and narrative, that we hardly noticed any lack of intimacy.

'Gute Nacht' started at quite a moving tempo with a sonorous accompaniment from the piano. Kirchschlager began with serious intent and a sense of long sustained phrases. There was something remarkably concentrated about her performance, and she used a wide range of colours in her voice, taking risks to make the text more expressive. Throughout the cycle her use of text was exemplary and you hardly needed recourse to the printed word sheets. This was allied to an extremely expressive physicality to her performance.
A vivid piano prelude opened 'Die Wetterfahne' with Kirchschlager fierce and intense. Already we sensed that her protagonist was not a comfortable person, they were someone already on edge. The sense of tense concentration continued with 'Gefrorne Tränen' leading to a powerful climax. 'Erstarrung' was fast, with long phrases under great tension, no relaxation here. 'Der Lindenbaum' was beautifully phrased, and highly sculptural,  whilst 'Wasserflut' had a strong sense of gravity, along with vivid storytelling, becoming powerfully intense at the mention of the loved one's house.

We were already getting a sense of a character under great tension, at odds with society, and throughout  Kirchschlager's attention to detail in the text was allied to a haunted quality in her tone. And Drake's fine accompaniment complemented every detail.

'Auf dem Flusse' was quiet and intense, with something wild held down until let loose in the final verse. 'Rückblick' was vivid and fast, with the words spat out, whilst 'Irrlicht' gave us some brilliant story-telling, along with the sense that the poet is becoming divorced from reality. 'Rast' had a steadily unfolding line, with a steady trudge in the piano, pregnant with unstated meaning. 'Frühlingstraum' was beautiful, yet slightly disturbing with the second and fifth verses in vicious contrast. 'Einsamkeit' started intensely, conveying the sense the poet could see something that was not really there.

'Die Post' was joyful, but just for a moment, with a lovely spring in the piano and streaks of bitterness in the joy. 'Der greise Kopf' had a haunted feel, a sense of inner disturbance, whilst 'Die Krähe' was apparently rational yet with an unnerving feeling that everything was not quite right. A vivid and quiet 'Letzte Hoffnung' has a sense of wonder turning to anxiety whilst 'Im Dorfe' was sung as if each line was being forced or extruded out, with tense anger appearing in the middle verse. By now it is clear that our poet has a disturbing distance from reality. 'Der stürmische Morgen' was vivid with words spat out, the outer turmoil mirroring the poet's inner feelings, and here Kirchschlager gave a very physical performance.

'Täuschung' was apparently delightful, though a sense that it was all delusion became clear, and 'Der Wegweiser' was bleak and sober, with a mesmerising inner intensity, as if the poet was looking into another world. 'Das Wirtshaus' was slow, soberly phrased and almost hymn-like but even here there was no consolation. 'Mut!' was tense with a disturbing intensity, whilst 'Die Nebensohn' was bleakly haunted. Finally the haunted, mesmerising 'Der Leierman' with Kirchschlager's eyes staring into the distance.

This was a remarkable journey. Kirchschlager and Drake created an intense and disturbed soul, with the poet's outer journey mirroring the inner one as the poet becomes more divorced from society, and perhaps from rationality.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Byron's Grand Tour: Alison Pitt & Gavin Roberts at the St Marylebone Festival (★★★½) - concert review
  • It’s Opera Giacomo, but not as we know it - Turandot at Torre del Lago (★★★) - Opera review
  • A study in dementia: a radical new version of Verdi's Nabucco from the Heidenheim Opera Festival (★★★) - Opera review
  • Lithe and musically engaging: Verdi's I Lombardi from the Heidenheim Opera Festival (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Premiere of a rarity: Donizetti's L'ange de Nisida from Opera Rara and the Royal Opera - (★★★★★) Opera review
  • An impressive achievement: Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos at Opera Holland Park - (★★★★½) Opera review
  • Alissa Firsova: Fantasy  (★★★★) - CD review
  • The cabaret tradition: Melinda Hughes, Jeremy Limb & friends in Weimar and Back (★★★½)  - CD review
  • A new, yet familiar piece: Benjamin Zander on his interpretation of Beethoven's Choral Symphony  - interview
  • More than just Vox patris coelestis: a new William Mundy disc from Edinburgh (★★★★)  - CD review
  • 75th birthday celebrations: Robin Holloway's chamber music on Sheva Contemporary  (★★★★)  - CD review
  • Home

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