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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 January 2019

Review: Matthias Goerne digs deep for his Abu Dhabi Classics performance of Schubert’s Winterreise

Applause felt like the least appropriate response to Matthias Goerne's reading of Schubert's Winterreise - there was something about the sparse, chilling way the final notes of closing piece The Hurdy-Gurdy Man rang out, which made jubilation the least natural response imaginable.

Applause felt like the least appropriate response to Matthias Goerne’s reading of Schubert’s Winterreise , the closing concert of Abu Dhabi Classics’s 2015/16 season.

Of course, it was only right and polite to express appreciation to the solo voice and pianist which took us on this most haunting journey. But there was something about the sparse, chilling way the final notes of closing piece The Hurdy-Gurdy Man rang out, which made jubilation the least natural response imaginable.

One felt several astonished seconds of silence descend before Manarat Al Saadiyat burst into enthusiastic applause; as is customary when performing Winterreise (Winter Journey), no encore was performed.

This was not quite the only moment of audible gratitude during Monday’s concert; the crowd got carried away following Good Night – the bittersweet invitation which begins our protagonist’s trek into the harsh wilderness of winter, and the depths of the human soul.

But sensible silence followed the dramatic psychological drama of The Weathervane – and by the close of the third chapter, the mood of solemn meditation was set when Goerne threatened to leave the stage if the assembled photographers did not stop taking his picture, as they had promised to do after just two pieces. Terse silence followed the remaining chapters of this magnificent 24-song cycle – lieder composed by Schubert in 1827, based on the poems of contemporary Wilhelm Müller, and regarded among the best examples of the form today.

With an 11-volume Schubert series among his lengthy discography (The Goerne/Schubert edition), and more than 200 performances of Winterreise behind him, Goerne brings this Romantic masterpiece a planet-sized gravity. Less theatrical than other contemporary experts – most notably British tenor Ian Bostridge – Goerne remained rooted largely in one spot, clutching at the piano as if it were a pillar of emotional, as well as musical, support.

Singing in his native language, for 75 ceaseless minutes the German baritone unravelled the work’s deep emotional troughs; the fragile beauty of Frozen Tears, the restless trilling Numbness, the sombre meditation of Torrent. Not to mention the teasing, childlike hallucination of Will-o’-the-Wisp or the theatrical vocal workout of A Dream of Springtime – there are no weak links in this sympathetic triumph.

“I have truly done no wrong / That I should shun mankind / What foolish desire / Drives me into the Wastelands?” asks our narrator in The Signpost, a moment of clarity amid an increasingly muddled mind.

But nothing matched the heart-plunging, goosebump-intimacy of finale The Hurdy Gurdy Man – a sombre reflection on a fellow outcast, who may just offer our troubled traveller the warmth of a friend.

rgarrat@thenational.ae

Updated: May 17, 2016 04:00 AM

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