I'd like to refer you over to The New Yorker today for a wonderful article by Alex Ross about Schubert's Winterreise, as reimagined for the stage by Katie Mitchell. The show, One Evening, makes much of the connection between Schubert's bleak winter landscape of the soul and those of Samuel Beckett. It was premiered in Aldeburgh last summer, visited the Queen Elizabeth Hall and is now in the Big Apple. There's an interview with the performers and director in the New York Times, here.
In Britain, though, it met with a mixed reception. The Guardian's critic, Andrew Clements, called it "profoundly arrogant" and the Times review said it was "silly" (admittedly, coconut shells wouldn't be the most original sound effect), though Anna Picard in The Independent on Sunday was much more positive about the presentation as an alternative experience.
It won't surprise me if the show is a hit in New York in a way it was not over here. It is very hard for such 'alternative' experiences to gain acceptance in Britain. Some might say we're a nation of purists, others a nation of conservatives (with a small c), but whatever our national nature, where music is concerned we still don't like venturing out of our comfort zones too often - though a few choice artists are determined to persuade us to do so.
Anyway, it's very cold outside and the snow shows no signs of disappearing, so we should hear some of Winterreise itself. Mark Padmore has recently recorded it with pianist Paul Lewis - a recording that has divided opinion, with a certain quarter (including Ross) going into ecstasies and others (including me) finding it a fraction too detached and technical, and with some occasional tension between singer and piano. Instead, here are the last songs, 'Die drei Sonnen' and 'Der Leiermann', from my personal favourite recording by Matthias Goerne, baritone, and Alfred Brendel, piano, live in concert. Hearing them, it does occur to me that when a work is as perfect, as devastating and even as sacred, as Winterreise, maybe it is better not to mess about with it after all.
Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.
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