Last night at the National Opera Center we were held in rapt attention as tenor David Tayloe gave a superlative performance of Schubert's Winterreise. It just so happens that the artist's favorite song cycle is our own favorite as well. There is no piece of vocal music to which we would rather listen and none which stands up as well to repeated hearings. There is always something new to discover.
At the very height of his songwriting powers, Schubert took the 24 poems of Wilhelm Müller, describing a young man's descent into madness, and made magic with his melodies and harmonies. Mr. Tayloe made even more magic as he sang them.
We are not literary critics so all we can say is that the text rhymes and scans, which we consider basic minimum requirements. Making good use of metaphor and symbolism, the poems narrate the journey of a young man, rejected in love, who wanders a snowy icy landscape, . As a young man's story, we love to hear it sung by a young man.
The hero is drowning in misery and self-pity and yet we never condescend to him. Who has not suffered the loss of love! Schubert, Müller and Tayloe took the specific and made it universal so we could all share the sorrow in its many colors--nostalgia, bitterness, grief, longing, false hope, despair, isolation, and hopelessness.
Schubert's writing is magnificently varied and intense, giving each of the 24 verses a different mood, by virtue of changes of key, rhythm, tonality and color. Many of the songs can stand alone and would be a fine addition to any recital. But the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
There are personal and symbolic relationships to various man-made, natural, and super-natural elements which Mr. Tayloe, aided by the superb piano partnership of Alan Johnson, made quite clear--the weathervane, the signpost, the crow, the frozen brook, the linden tree, the frost--all are painted in vivid colors.
It is a formidable task to learn the 80 or so minutes of music and there are many singers who wouldn't consider approaching it. Yet Mr. Tayloe not only approached it but he mastered it, giving himself over to the text and the music. He took the journey and he invited us to come along. No doubt the studying and rehearsing took a great deal of time and effort but he made it feel spontaneous. Quite an achievement!
Mr. Tayloe's technique was terrific but could easily go unnoticed as one tended to focus on the emotional content. Still, we noticed that his German diction was fine, and the quality of his instrument sweet with a touch of the Irish tenor in it. At times the suspenseful quality was enhanced by a bit of rubato which left phrases suspended in mid-air. Finally, we appreciate that his voice was perfectly scaled to the size and acoustic qualities of the hall. It is an intimate cycle and it felt exactly right.
(c) meche kroop