Monday, 7 September 2015

WINTERREISE / Matthias Goerne & Markus Hinterhäuser / Review

Matthias Goerne, Baritone with
Markus Hinterhauser, Piano
Singapore International 
Festival of Arts 2015
SOTA Concert Hall
Friday (4 September 2015)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 7 September 2015 with the title "Wealth of emotion, depth of expression".
Franz Schubert's song cycle Winterreise (Winter's Journey) is one of the greatest settings of words to music, an utterance from the deepest recesses of the human soul. Composed in 1827, the Austrian composer was to die tragically a year later at the age of 31, unfulfilled in life's aspirations and love. Encompassing 24 songs in a span of some 80 minutes, its title seemed almost autobiographical, reflecting a metaphorical trudge into despair and hopelessness, over and above the bleak physical landscape it describes.

The backdrop to Schubert's song cycle
represented some paper-filled wasteland.

Any undertaking of its musical language and wide-ranging emotions is not to be taken lightly. The Singapore International Festival of Arts is to be lauded for engaging leading German baritone Matthias Goerne with Austrian pianist Markus Hinterhäuser in two performances of a relative rarity here. Excepting readings by local singers Adrian Poon and Eng Meng Chia in recent years, one has reach back to 1988 for the landmark set by the late Hermann Prey at Victoria Concert Hall.

Goerne with his rich, gravelly yet flexible baritone voice is ideally suited for its travails. The opening song Gute Nacht (Good Night) was the protagonist's acceptance of rejection, and the beginning of his road to oblivion. Along the way, there are reminders of his failed loves, with images steeped in symbolism of decay and death. It is a harrowing path he takes, made all the more human by Goerne's wealth of emotion, and depth of expression.

Even in the seemingly lighter songs, the transient joy he experiences prove to be false dawns. His wearied soul finds no rest, harried by village dogs and even graveyards have no place for him. His lot is to wander for eternity, no better expressed in the final song, Die Leiermann (The Organ Grinder) with the piano's desolate drone a foretelling of his bitter fate.

Close your eyes or cast your glance towards the performers, and one would have been sated by the music's extraordinary drawing power many times over. But this Arts Festival production had the added dimension of the moving image. Short films in black-and-white animation by South African artist and multi-media director William Kentridge, projected on a backdrop representing a paper-filled wasteland, accompanied the songs

His films told another story, which paralleled the original conception in darkness and further symbolism: isolation, sexual frustration and mortality being recurrent themes, with the parched veldt a surrogate for an alpine wilderness. Now one's senses were being stretched, between following the animations, the projected English transliterations and most importantly, the performers. This production deserves multiple viewings, but bearing in mind that with the most imaginative minds in music, less is more.    

Matthias Goerne and Markus Hinterhäuser
with SIFA Artistic Director Ong Keng Sen.

No comments: