Monday, 22 August 2011

Some reflections on Schubert's Winterreise / Singapore Lieder Festival 2011

Some Reflections on Schubert’s Winterreise
Singapore Lieder Festival 2011
The Sing Song Club
Adrian Poon, Tenor & Shane Thio, Piano
The Living Room @ The Arts House
Sunday (21 August 2011)

It’s been 23 years since I last heard Schubert’s Winterreise (Winter Journey) performed “live” in Singapore. There was one performance by Germany-based Singaporean baritone Eng Meng Chia last year which I missed, so a re-acquaintance with Schubert’s greatest and bleakest song cycle at Singapore’s first-ever Lieder Festival became all the more vital. By the way, the 1988 Winterreise was sung by the great baritone Hermann Prey, no less.

So what did young local tenor Adrian Poon have to say? Pretty much, it seems. First he burst the myth that these 24 songs could only be sung by one who is old and grizzled. Nowhere in Wilhelm Müller’s texts indicates that the protagonist was geriatric, and the feelings of unrequited love, desolation and suicidal thoughts were universal, regardless of age. His youthfulness (and he looks younger than his actual age, probably in the early 30s) was no impediment in the portrayal of world weariness and despair. In Gute Nacht, he established the plight of the forlorn with its yearning but mournful tone, one that would permeate the entire cycle.

As expected, his voice is also a youthful one, but one that can scale the heights of overwrought emotions yet plumb the depths of depressive troughs. Special care was paid to the dynamics, grace notes and all effort was made to colour each song differently, and there was no sense of drag or boredom setting into the cycle. There was a short break after the twelfth song, which gave the audience some respite. Die Post saw Adrian express excitement upon hearing the arrival of the mail, only to be disappointed with no letters from his beloved within. It is these contradictory emotions within a single song that gave the performer ample scope for expression, and these were delivered with confidence and sympathy.

Pianist Shane Thio, who had in the previous two evenings completed Die Schöne Mullerin and Schwanengesang (with various singers), was an ideal partner, always sensitive and alert to the music’s shifts and swings. The piano, lambasted in the Straits Times review, was the weakest link but at least in tune. Some songs were transposed, and Shane managed these with perfection.

By the 24th and final song Der Leiermann (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man), the protagonist is a spent force, and this was aptly portrayed with the piano’s eerie drone and the song’s stark melodic line. It is the end of the journey, but one arrived at with much earnestness and soul searching. Both performers had given their all, but appeared as if they were ready for more.

The audience was pitifully small, only 23 persons, one less than the number of songs sung. Such a noble enterprise deserved a far better reception.

The Lieder Festival continues from 1-3 September 2011 at the Living Room of The Arts House, with the song cycles of Robert Schumann.

No comments: