Winterreise  part of CLASSICAL ENCOUNTERS in the Nieuwe Kerk, Den Haag

Tonight’s performance of Schubert’s Winterreise was a departure from the old established form – the usual baritone and a piano, both having equal importance. So far, Dietrich Fischer-Diskau and Alfred Brendel’s rendering of the work in 1986 had not been superceded. However, tonight  André Morsch, the excellent German baritone who has appeared in all the major opera house across Europe, was accompanied by a string quartet consisting of Eva Stegeman (violin), Tim Brackman, 2nd violin, Asdis Valdimarsdottir (viola) and Mick Stirling (cello).

To have a string quartet set against Morsch’s full and warm baritone was a stroke of genius. The quartet produced a greater range of sounds than a piano and it beautifully illustrated Wilhelm Müller’s twenty four rather dark, nostalgic and fatalistic themes set to music by Schubert. I got the strange feeling that Müller and Schubert worked together rather like Bernie Taupin and Elton John – the text came first, then the musical genius did his work, but one would be nothing without the other. It was the perfect collaboration just before Schubert died and the lyrics reflected Schubert’s fear of death, of a love never to return, of cold, of the grave. This was especially evident in song No. 15 Die Krähe (The Crow) in which a carrion crow sits waiting for death to set in before consuming the corpse.

The last song, Der Leierman (The Organ Grinder) was particularly poignant, all the more so as the string quartet managed to reproduce the sound of a street organ being turned by a failing hand. Morsch’s voice drew every nuance humanly possible from Müller’s darkly evocative lyrics – melancholy, loss, defeat, hope and resignation. Very moving and beautifully sung and played.   Astrid Burchardt    11th May 2019

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