Winterreise, Tristan Bates Theatre, London
L'Enfance du Christ, Dome, Brighton
A sour, bronchitic rasp opens and closes baritone Thomas Guthrie's staging of Winterreise.
As the first notes of Schubert's song cycle sound, woodcut clouds drift across a full moon on a screen above. Huddled under burlap, barely visible in the darkness, a small wooden figure looks up and begins to sing, hot with fever in a frozen landscape.
Movement is necessarily restricted in Guthrie's liminal production. Performed in the tiny Tristan Bates Theatre with a period guitar and an 1828 grand piano, the journey unfolds in flashback. As puppet and singer-animator become one, it barely matters whether we are in the coal-burner's hut ("Rast") or the cemetery ("Das Wirtshaus"). The enforced intimacy is transformative, turning a clean, collegiate baritone into something wild and dark. Consonants cut like blades or whisper like leaves, the great moan of "Wasserflut" sears. Meanwhile, the careless prettiness of Sam Cave's guitar is contrasted with the oyster-shell timbres of David Owen Norris's piano. From the Beethovenian glower of "Erstarrung" to the gentle ripple of "Der Lindenbaum", the bone-shaking clatter of "Die Post", the nostalgic whistle of "Frühlingstraum", the silvered skies of "Die Krähe" and the faint drone of "Der Leiermann" this was audaciously expressive, chilling and thrilling.
For a happier ending to a winter journey, let's turn to Sir Mark Elder's performance of L'Enfance du Christ with the Britten Sinfonia. Powerfully theatrical in its first part, gilded and candied in its second, and dewily fragranced with pseudo-exotica in its third, this sacred triptych is a guilty pleasure. Time and place blur deliciously. Though Egypt sounds like Provence, Berlioz is extravagantly generous with colour and character, painting a post-partum Mary (Sarah Connolly) of impeccable tenderness and a Joseph (Roderick Williams) of indefatigable rectitude.
King Herod (Neal Davies) is assigned a lavish dream-sequence, while the kindly Ishmaelite (Davies again) who eventually shelters the Holy Family has time to exchange small-talk about carpentry and baby-names ("Jésus! Quel nom charmant!") before summoning a trio of flutes and harp. The Brighton Dome has a capricious acoustic but the singing was magnificent, the orchestral textures exquisitely balanced, the choral singing at its most refined when supporting Allan Clayton's elegant, tireless Narrator in the Epilogue. A magical conclusion to the year.
Arts & Ents blogs
There is a good many moments in the second episode of this psychological thriller that deserve refle...
The opening titles squeal ‘Never Can Say Goodbye…’. Oh Lord how I wish I could heave this series off...
Even though there was a complete absence of our favourite odd couple Brienne and Jaime, we got anoth...
'He was lucky he didn't die' - George Michael fell out of speeding car onto M1 motorway, according to eye witness
Further Space Oddity: Jeremy Paxman grills British astronaut Major Tim Peake in weirdly aggressive Newsnight interview
Coronation Street triumphs over EastEnders at British Soap Awards 2013
Cannes Film Festival 2013 review: Behind The Candelabra - Michael Douglas brilliantly captures Liberace's showmanship
Inferno author Dan Brown 'honoured' to be invited to join the Freemasons
- 1 Gay couple beaten in park urge MPs to moderate language on gay marriage
- 2 Swedes set up 'ultimate Viking movie'
- 3 After woman sells virginity for $780,000, here are the results of our prostitution survey
- 4 China agrees to impose carbon targets by 2016
- 5 Far-right French historian, 78-year-old Dominique Venner, commits suicide in Notre Dame in protest against gay marriage
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.