Sunday, May 4, 2008

Schubert's "Winterreise"

November 11 turned rainy and blustery; winter was certainly on its way. At the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) song cycle “Winterreise” (A Winter’s Journey), opus 89, to poems by Wilhelm Mueller (1794-1827), was being performed by German baritone Andreas Reibenspies and Israeli-born pianist Adi Bar.

Andreas Reibenspies studied voice and piano at the University of Music in Karlsruhe, Germany. He sings opera, has a strong interest in contemporary music and song, accompanies and conducts. He is professor of voice at the University of Trossingen, Germany.

Israeli Adi Bar began his music studies at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance here in Israel and is currently a faculty member at the University of Music in Karlsuhe, Germany. Bar conducts, teaches and performs as a soloist and in chamber music in Israel, Europe and the USA.

In March 1827, Beethoven died, and Schubert bore a torch at his funeral. He was now in a state of melancholy, also due to the fact that he had just begun work on the “Winterreise”. The poet Mueller may have had premonitions of death as he died less than a year after writing the poems. Mueller parallels Nature and its changes to the solitary man’s emotional state. The songs belong to the forefront of those expressions of the shaken and sorrowing mind and Schubert saw in them his own fate. On performing the song cycle to his friends, who remained stunned, gloomy and puzzled, Schubert said “I like them more than any other songs, and the day will come when you will like them, too.” Schubert had become a man possessed by his own 24-part dissertation of enormous variety and range on a single theme of human woe.

Reibenspies and Bar offered us a brilliant and profound performance. The acoustic of this auditorium enables one to hear layering and individuality of roles as well as the blend. The first song begins with the man leaving his beloved’s house and walking out, alone, into the cold winter night. The piano describes the man’s footsteps. Reibenspies opened with a warm, descriptive sound, enticing us to join the journey. Bar’s playing was delicate; all symbols received his attention and were treated masterfully: the piano cried out warnings, sounded the cock crowing, dogs barking, the galloping of the horse-drawn carriage bringing mail, a storm blowing up, the icy river bed, tears falling drop by drop, the expansive sky with the weightlessness of a crow soaring. His dramatic moments were powerful; he and his singer were locked into a totally coordinated performance. Reibenspies used his huge palette of vocal colors with skill - every word was weighed up for content and found articulation with his fine diction. His sense of drama and timing together with his flexible vocal range guided us through the various mood changes: to name a few - the joy and hope of Spring interrupted by winter’s cruel reminder in “Fruelingstraum” (Dream of Spring), courage to be positive despite personal tragedy and icy weather in “Mut”(Courage), a man running in a state of panic through the snow, his soles “burning” in “Rueckblick” (Looking Behind), resignation as heard in “Der Wegweiser” (The Signpost) and, possibly, the most enigmatic of all Romantic songs – “Der Leiermann”(The Hurdy-Gurdy Man.) This is one of the sparest songs ever written. A single empty fifth in the bass drones through the piece, the hurdy-gurdy (an early stringed instrument plucked by rotating plectra) is imitated by the piano. The lone man meets an old, barefoot beggar playing the hurdy-gurdy outside on the icy ground. A short song with just a handful of notes, this crowns the song cycle with a perfection that baffles and haunts the listener. Reibenspies sang this last piece with spine-chilling resignation and tranquility.

It was an evening not to be forgotten.

Sunday Evening Classics
The Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies (Mormon University)
November 11, 2007
Andreas Reibenspies-baritone
Adi Bar-piano

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