"Rare performance of Schubert masterpiece"
by Jim Kelly for remotegoat on 06/04/12

Schubert's song cycle Winterreise tells the story of a man, bereft of love travelling through winter cold, encountering a bare landscape - of brooks and streams hidden beneath ice, bare trees loaded with snow, lonely villages where he can find neither comfort nor warmth. To some, including Samuel Beckett, Winterreise is the apotheosis of 19th century Romantic music - brooding and melancholy, but also frequently startlingly spare. Yet with 24 songs in the cycle Winterreise can only rarely be found performed in the original entirety. That Alexander Wall and Jamie Thompson not only perform the whole work, but do so such lucid understanding is quietly wondrous.

Winterreise is a notoriously difficult piece to perform not simply because of the demands on technique, memory and range (many of the songs shift suddenly; brief moments of hope stopped and extinguished) but because the songs are so often about introspective loneliness - or else if read as utterances, can be characterised as a Wordsworthian 'spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions'. The songs are not written for or at an audience; they neither cajole nor provoke, and many singers struggle when they are looking to fill a room with their voice rather than turn a listener's ear.

Tenor Alexander Wall's performance, after a very slightly slow start, was wonderfully consistent throughout the cycle. Above all he excelled in the more difficult quieter passages with the impeccable clarity of his intonation (I only sometimes hoped the songs would be performed more slowly so we might hear more of his natural quaver; with Schubert there's always some space for melodrama). Jamie Thompson's piano was also played with careful feeling to match Wall's tone.

Kudos too for the evening's hosts: the 1901 Art's Club - a unique salon venue, perfectly suited to recitals of this kind, and thoughtfully run. I wish both performers and venue the best of luck for the future.

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