|Mark Padmore, Sir Simon Rattle, and Ensemble Connect|
We long ago lost count of how many times we have thrilled to Schubert's Winterreise. The grief in Wilhelm Müller's poetry comes in varied shades of grey and at the end we feel a tremendous catharsis. We have heard the magnificent cycle sung by the famous and by students at Juilliard. Almost always, the intimacy of the connection has touched us deeply.
There have been only two performances that failed to thrill us. One involved lots of distraction by a troupe of modern dancers who shall remain unnamed; the other performance was by an elderly croaker who should have known better.
Yesterday's performance at Zankel Hall sounded tempting--an "interpretation" of the work by Hans Zender--composed for tenor and small orchestra. No doubt the generous applause at the conclusion of the 90 minute work indicated that many people did enjoy the work. We did not.
Admittedly, the orchestral writing was original and involved a plethora of unusual sounds. The instrumentation included accordion, harp, contrabassoon, chimes, two wind machines, alto flute, piccolo, and a great variety of percussion. The young musicians of Ensemble Connect, under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle, did what was asked of them. They played up and down the aisles, from the second level, and from outside the doors of the parterre. This was more distracting than artistic, especially when the doors creaked.
Schubert's melodies were altered in multiple ways with motifs often repeated. The various sound effects were meant to reproduce the natural elements mentioned in the text--the posthorn, the crow, the wind. There was much scraping and banging. At one point we heard arhythmic hammering coming from backstage and wondered what was being constructed.
Tenor Mark Padmore, who was "on the book" was requested to shout at times, or whisper, or use sprechstimme. His performance, in any case, was overshadowed by all the elaborate effects. We couldn't keep from thinking of hyperactive children, each screaming for attention. Obviously Mr. Zender had no idea of "Less is More".
The cycle was completely robbed of its intimacy and seemed wrongheaded to us. We imagine that lovers of modern music who had never heard nor developed affection for the cycle, might have enjoyed it more than we did. For us it was like adding arms to The Venus de Milo!
(c) meche kroop