Winterreise – A Parallel Journey, Wigmore Hall, London, review: Matthew Rose’s gloriously rich, dark bass makes a wonderful foil for the depth of emotion

Matthew Rose breathes new life into Franz Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’ – a chilling song cycle written in the composer’s final days 

The British bass captured the despair in the Austrian composer’s sombre piece
The British bass captured the despair in the Austrian composer’s sombre piece

Matthew Rose’s most recent triumph on the London stage was as the bombastic vulgarian Baron Ochs in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier – a character he made human and funny for all his ghastliness. It was as far removed from the hyper-sensitive desolate wanderer of Schubert’s “Winterreise” as it is possible to imagine.

Schubert wrote this song cycle overshadowed by his own impending death, justly describing it as terrifying. Wilhelm Müller’s twenty-four poems follow the restless journey of a jilted lover through a frozen winter landscape, caught between remembered pleasure and despair. Though originally for tenor, the cycle is often transposed, and Rose’s gloriously rich, dark bass makes a wonderful foil for the depth of emotion while maintaining beauty of tone throughout. Where some singers deliberately harshen to depict “The Crow”, Rose instead emphasises its wondrous strangeness. His interpretation swells towards its bleak conclusion.

In 2012 when Rose and accompanist Gary Matthewman made their acclaimed recording of this, Rose asked artist Victoria Crowe if they might use some of her paintings of the Scottish winter as illustration. In performance, a moving panorama of Crowe’s silhouetted branches and tree-shapes were projected centre-stage, with pianist and singer placed to one side. With no action on stage to detract from, it provided a hypnotic accompaniment to Schubert’s inward odyssey.

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