We do not know whether the poet Wilhelm Müller experienced such terrible romantic disappointment in his life but he died young, a year before Schubert set his poetry to music. Neither do we know whether Schubert experienced such grief. We wonder whether it is the artists' imagination that allows them to plumb the very depths of the human soul. We certainly hope that baritone Michael Kelly and collaborative pianist Jonathan Ware have never descended to such emotional depths and that they never will!
A better partnership could not be imagined. Mr. Kelly's satin instrument and fine technique were utilized and augmented by astonishing interpretive skills in a way that made them all subservient to the intense inner journey that he seemed to undergo--a tragic descent from romantic disappointment into psychotic depression, complete with hallucinations. There was no doubt in our minds that the crows were heard, the many suns seen. Perfect German diction allowed any listener with even a meager knowledge of German to understand what was transpiring.
This is an interesting contrast with Müller's other collection of poetry set by Schubert and entitled Die Schöne Müllerin. In that cycle, the hero describes an elaborate story of leaving home, finding work as an apprentice miller, falling in love with the miller's daughter, being supplanted in her affection by a hunter, and seeking death in the waters of his beloved brook. In the case of Winterreise, the poet begins his journey following the romantic rejection; the outer journey through an icy landscape is symbolic of the inner journey he makes through his frozen internal landscape.
Schubert shows us a baker's dozen varieties of despair in this cycle and each one is different in tone. Often there are changes of mood within the same song, achieved with changes of key, mode and rhythm. The intensity of Mr. Kelly's performance was equaled by the intensity and subtlety of Mr. Ware's pianism. The two artists seemed to breathe together.
This inspired teamwork never called attention to itself but existed solely to serve the music. It was an astonishing evening and merited the prolonged standing ovation at the conclusion. Our tears dried and the lump in our throat vanished but the catharsis lasted all night. Bravissimi!
(c) meche kroop