A long winter’s (?) journey

August 3, 2007

I attended sixteen of the Chamber Music Festival events in total, which sounds excessive until you realise that there are regular patrons of this festival who make a point of going to more than thirty concerts during these two weeks. I’ve heard them boasting about it in the line-ups. Where they find the stamina I can’t imagine.

Chris took half a day off work in order to join me in the audience for this afternoon’s concert at St Andrew’s because attendance at this one was a must: a performance of Schubert’s Winterreise which he and I have now been studying at home for the past four years! In this case the singer was Alexander Dobson and his accompanist Yannick Nézet-Séguin, newly appointed music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic. Their interpretation, that won them a spontaneous standing ovation from a packed church hall after 70 minutes of uninterrupted performance, was absorbingly dramatic. Mr Dobson positively spat out the words of the songs between which there was not a pause; he hardly had time to draw breath between each one. The pianist hardly let the final note of one song die away before launching himself into the next.

The singer certainly looked the part, especially when complaining in Song No. 14 that his sufferings hadn’t yet turned his hair sufficiently grey (Der greise Kopf) or when turning up his eyes to watch the imaginary crow that circles above him waiting for him to die in Song No. 15, though I’m not sure he is quite old enough to sing Im Dorfe with enough understanding (“I have finished with all my dreaming” — “Ich bin zu Ende mit allen Träumen”) to give these words the right emphasis. He sounded at his best, I think, in the angry songs, such as Die Wetterfahne. He interpreted Gute Nacht as an angry song too.

The only snag was that we were having to imagine unmeltable ice and snow on a day when the outdoor temperature was 32 Centigrade and the indoor temperature in that church without air-conditioning possibly even higher. We sat close enough to the performers to see the beads of sweat dripping off their necks.

2 Responses to “A long winter’s (?) journey”

  1. Faith Says:

    So was Schubert old enough to write the music for “Im Dorfe” with understanding, then (aged 30)? Don’t think I have finished with all my dreaming yet (aged 52).

  2. cwlh Says:

    Good point, but they aged quickly in those days. I’m reading John Banville’s novel “Dr Copernicus” at the moment (set three centuries earlier than when Schubert lived, admittedly) and he describes Copernicus’ school teacher like this: “Canon Wodka was an old man of thirty.” That brought me up short! Schubert was that age when he wrote the “Winterreise,” dying a year later, and the poet too died at about the same age. Anyway, I think the “miller” man goes through all the stages of grief in those songs (bitterness, denial, despair …) and “Im Dorfe” is the turning point where he starts to accept reality and resigns himself to living without The Girl. He compares himself to all the normal people in the village whose dreams (i.e. illusions) are still intact. Now there was no resignation in the tone of voice last Friday’s singer used for this song; that’s why I don’t think he got it quite right.


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