Winterreise is such a canon and a true challenge for vocal recitalists interested in German Lied. This return to it by Alice Coote after her 2008 first attempt at the same venue was an evening of deep intellectual engagement and a journey of the heart. Surely a cycle that benefits from a woman’s warm touch.
Her appearance on stage with eyes as moist as the poet Wilhelm Muller describes, was a perfect match for Elena Gerhardt’s famous quote on the work ‘You have to be haunted by this cycle to be able to sing it’. The first bleak introduction into Gute Nacht/Good night to the departure of the man from the house of his beloved was played with butch conviction by Drake and a thin thread of voice by Coote that snarled the last Schnee/snow of the first verse in a piercing cry, pre-figuring what was to come next.
Her visceral turn of phrase chasing the piano throughout the circle created a sense of tension which paired with her unwavering, sustained emotional engagement was a perfect amalgamation of text, music and subject matter. She sang Wenn meine Schmerzen schweigen, Wer sagt mir damn von ihr? / Who, when my grief is silent, will speak to me of her? in Erstarrung/Numbness with a devastated search for life amongst the snow on a background of rapidly played triplets was a marvel.
Her rendition of Der Lindenbaum/The linden tree was one of such simplicity and softness that was winning and intensifying the emotional core of the work. Ich träumt in seinem Schatten. So manchen süßen Traum/I used to dream in its shade, so many a sweet dream ,was lustful with her production of glorious round tone. Her deep breaths before the last verse brought us further in this world of romantic suffering. The repetition of the last line was as hushed as a lullaby contrasting with the high dramatic delivery of the next song Wasserflut/Flood which was much more imposing in character and darker in delivery.
For Auf dem Flusse/On the river we were treated to a description of the scene painted with beautiful colours Coote’s voice finishing with a fierce Ob’s unter seiner Rinde.Wohl auch so reißend schwillt?/Is there such a raging torrent beneath its surface too? The fast-moving Rückblick/A backward glance added urgency and spring to the step.
She concluded Irrlicht/Will-o’-the-wisp with a simple and serious repeat of Wind’ ich ruhig mich hinab,Jeder Strom wird’s Meer gewinnen,Jedes Leiden auch sein Grab./I calmly make my way down – every river will reach the sea, every sorrow find its grave. She then gave a relieved and at the same time restless delivery of Rast/Rest.
Frühlingstraum/Dream of spring was a captivating interplay of steely vocal delivery for all the morbid thoughts at the start that turned in to a feeling of wistful remembrance and helplessness. She followed in the same mood with Einsamkeit/Loneliness culminating in her projection of the word licht/light straight upwards to the ceiling of the Hall almost physically going against that natural tormentor of the hero. A subtle but telling way of all the small details that she brought to the evening and made this song cycle a lived experience that was narrated back with those world-weary limps and eyes welling up.
Die Post/The mail-coach was a wonderful merge of piano and voice, Drake created the intricate, playful backdrop for Coote’s heart-broken delivery. That led to Der greise Kopf/The hoary head where she used her warm chest voice to describe the wish to find succour in death. The plucked motifs of Die Krähe/The crow ended with a fierce, bitter wish to come closer to death. That gave way to the contained, quiet reverie of Letzte Hoffnung/Last hope with her voice describing the trembling leaf with a fluctuating middle register.
Her steely gliding tone in Im Dorfe/In the village gave an interesting textural richness that prepared us for the quick-moving, almost breathless Der stürmische Morgen/The stormy morning which she navigated with urgency.
Täuschung/Delusion took us back to the heart of the character, a desperate description of unattainable happiness. The dynamic shaping of the phrases was soft and effortless.
Der Wegweiser/The signpost was a combination of silky delivery in the first half and crushing grief and a sense of inevitability in the last few lines. Das Wirtshaus/The inn opened with lustful, lush piano and Coote moving from weariness to an accusing frenzy. Almost a condensed mad scene in four minutes, a stunning moment where she took a risk and added visceral engagement and dramatic vigour that thankfully did not make the scene seem ridiculously soppy. Her Nun weiter denn, nur weiter, mein treuer Wanderstab!/On,then.ever onwards, my trusty staff! was an impassioned conclusion.
The last three songs allowed her to conclude in the most fierce manner possible. Mut!/Courage! was a last rallying cry of the inner voice of the hero with the proclamation Will kein Gott auf Erden sein, Sind wir selber Götter!/If there’s no god on earth, then we ourselves are gods. Her intoxicating delivery of Die Nebensonnen/Phantom suns was the personification of disillusionment in a dream-like scenario. The concluding Der Leiermann/The organ-grinder was dramatic and still subtle. She looked out in search for that other wretched soul that would accompany the hero into the underworld. After the final Willst zu meinen Liedern deine Leier drehn?/Will you grind your hurdy-gurdy to my songs? ,almost a minute of silence followed as she stood immobile in suspended animation. Alike a figurehead in the bow of this Schubertian ship.
It was this rare beast of a recital when venue, work and performers created a unified whole that was stunning. The performance tugged at the heart-strings like nothing else I’ve seen in months. A master-class in marriage of stage magnetism, great singing and truth. Alice Coote and Julius Drake should be truly proud on delving deep and offering us an insight into this song cycle that very few artists can do. We were all very lucky tonight and the memory of it will be with me for a very long time.
The performance was recorded for future release on cd…so look out for it!
The CD and download is available from 8 April 2013, here’s the link to the Amazon UK page.
Some tweets from the evening