sun 21/07/2024

Winterreise, Finley, Drake, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Winterreise, Finley, Drake, Wigmore Hall

Winterreise, Finley, Drake, Wigmore Hall

Clear-eyed account of Schubert's study in mental disintegration

Gerald Finley in sunnier mood(c) Sim Canetty-Clarke

Of Schubert’s two great cycles, the youthful ardour of Die schöne Müllerin sits best with a tenor while the bleak wretchedness of Winterreise lends itself to the baritone voice.

These, of course, are personal prejudices, for both works can be sung in either range (and indeed beyond, as the presence in the Wigmore Hall audience of a leading female exponent of Winterreise, Alice Coote, reminded us), but it’s what experience has taught me. On this occasion Coote, like the rest of us, was there for a baritone, for it was Gerald Finley’s moment to mount an assault on this forbidding summit among Lieder peaks.

Fresh from shouldering the burden of Amfortas's trials at Covent Garden, Finley prolonged his winter of discontent with a dramatic account that was searing in power and virtuosic in delivery. Yet something was missing. The Canadian’s reading was evidently the product of deep study, and his theatrical instincts were put to good use in his riveting platform technique, but there was always a sense that he was projecting the songs rather than living the story. The greatest Schubert singers will draw us in to experience the wanderer’s splintering world from the inside, whereas Finley, and to some extent Julius Drake, seemed merely to be spinning a tale – in both senses of that expression. There has rarely been a Winterreise as polished as this from which I’ve felt so detached.

One day Finley will give us a shattering Winterreise

The pair’s even, sure-footed negotiation of the opening song, “Gute nacht”, held the promise of darker times to come, and there was originality a-plenty during the early songs as a fleet account of “Die Wetterfahne” and an unusually long-breathed “Erstarrung” gave way to a rapturously still account of “Der Lindenbaum”. Wherever possible the performers followed the slow road – a legacy of Parsifal, maybe – and almost ground to a halt in “Wasserflut” and “Frühlingstraum”.

Over the years Drake has accompanied Winterreise for all manner of singers, Coote among them, and he gave a near-blameless if, on this occasion, somewhat routine account of the piano part. I could have done without the shock moment he introduced during the coda of “Die Nebensonnen”; music that says “boo” is tiresome at the best of times, and Schubert’s greatness is cheapened by the use of tricks.

Finley himself strained for extraneous vocal effects only rarely, limiting himself to a sigh at the end of “Erstarrung” and a howl of anguish in “Irrlicht”; but where was the inwardness? Only sporadically did he invite the listener in, yet when he did so it was clear what might have been. “Der greise Kopf” was bone-chilling; “Das Wirthaus” terrible in its despair. One day, no question, Finley will give us a shattering Winterreise. This was not it.

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