CLASSICAL MUSIC

Matthias Gorne: Winterreise Wigmore Hall, London
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The Independent Culture
For one pregnant moment, at the end of Schubert's Winterreise on Monday evening, it seemed as if no one dared clap. Was there a new convention, like the old one attached to Parsifal, of not applauding such solemn and profoundly bleak music? When the clapping started, it fairly thundered. Anyway, on this occasion the 24 songs seemed not so bleak, nor so searing as you expected, or perhaps feared. Matthias Gorne's baritone is warm and rich, it almost wraps itself around you. Its very beauty didn't really express the harshness of the wanderer's lot. Which raises the old question of how far poetic truth should prevail over musical qualities, and to what degree they are interdependent, or even compatible. Gorne always sang musically, shaping every phrase and each little ornamental curl with loving care - and naturalness, for he didn't squeeze out his effects as he sometimes does.

He was strong, too, in "Der sturmische Morgen" (Stormy Morning), and sustained "Die Nebensonnen" (Phantom Suns) without the slightest strain, even though the tempo seemed excessively slow. In "Einsamkeit" (Loneliness) he whittled his tone away to a shadow of itself, conveying the stillness of the song, if not quite its sense of exhaustion. Perhaps the pianist Irwin Gage could have helped a bit there. He wasn't always as firm as he might have been, though it was good to see the piano-lid fully open - no problem for Gorne, after all.

Gage had good moments, though, like his artful return to the lilting first tempo in "Fruhlingstraum" (Dream of Spring), which he rounded off with a deliciously chilling arpeggiated chord. Then in the final song, "Der Leiermann" (The Hurdy-gurdy Man), he relished the crunch of the drone's dissonant lurches with striking boldness. The song is like a postlude in which you could perhaps imagine Schubert identifying his doppelganger.

Gorne's delivery here was a sort of stage whisper, or the hushed tone you might use to tell a bed-time story - nothing to make us feel uncomfortable. More's the pity, for Winterreise shouldn't be "lovely", or send us home feeling a warm glow inside. If the name Schubert conjures up to many people the image of a jolly fellow who poured forth beautiful tunes like a carefree lark, much of his music tells a different story. The subject of Winterreise is the outcast, and it should unsettle us.

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