We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Friday, February 14, 2014


Gerald Finley (photo by Sim Canetty-Clarke)
"Neither snow nor rain...." prevented illustrious Canadian baritone Gerald Finley nor incomparable collaborative pianist Julius Drake from performing Schubert's heartbreaking Winterreise at Zankel Hall last night.  The same could be said for the intrepid audience which braved snow, slush, ice and rain to attend the final performance of the artists' North American tour.  We have no way of knowing what the first stop was like but the tour ended on a perfect note, so to speak.

The work is one of our favorite song-cycles. This journey into madness with text by Wilhelm Müller, published in 1824, is typical of 19th c. romantic angst; it begins with a young man's disappointment which grows into despair, denial and ultimately depression and longing for death. Schubert elevated it into an iconic work of art in 1827 and died, sadly, a year later.  The music reflects the composer's own feelings about impending disability and death, aware as he was of the trajectory of syphilis.

Mr. Finley and Mr. Drake formed a perfect artistic partnership in their exploration of this heart-rending music.  Both voice and piano expressed the many colors of grief--sadness, nostalgia, regret, false hopes, illusory dreams, and resignation.  Some of the songs are so melodic and well-known that they are still playing in our head.  Many of them are strophic and challenge the singer and pianist to invest each verse with variety; this the artists accomplished successfully.  We loved the quietude of "Der Lindenbaum", the violent contrasts in "Frühlingstraum", the alienation limned by "Der Wegweiser", the energy of "Die Post" and the mysticism of "Der Leiermann".

But the sensitivity of the artists contributed to our better hearing of the lesser known songs in the cycle as well.  Mr. Drake's light touch at the piano was particularly effective in recreating images from nature, of which there are plenty--wind, snow, crows circling, horses hooves, leaves rustling.  We could even feel the trembling of the last leaf left on the tree.

Take note that the cycle is available on recording for those of you who never made it to the recital.  And there is also a youtube video of the artists discussing this work.

© meche kroop

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