fri 19/07/2024

Winterreise, Gilchrist, Tilbrook, Temple Church | reviews, news & interviews

Winterreise, Gilchrist, Tilbrook, Temple Church

Winterreise, Gilchrist, Tilbrook, Temple Church

An insightful interpretation of Schubert's inexhaustibly inspired work

A fascinating reading: Anna Tibrook and James GilchristPatrick Allen/Operaomnia

A rare thing indeed. A British singer/pianist duo has had the patience, and also been given the opportunities over a number of years, to own and to inhabit a thoroughly individual and intelligent interpretation of Schubert's Winterreise.

Tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook were in recital at Temple Church last night as part of the Temple Winter Festival, their performance also broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. They were at their best when giving a reminder of quite how much beauty, balance, subtlety and variety there is in the songs of Schubert's winter journey. Comparing last night's performance to the 2011 recording for Orchid Classics seemed to prove the theory that the more experience singers can gain in performing them, the more fascinating the cycle can become. 

An interpretation of the cycle based on the first line, and on the idea that the narrator is a forlorn outsider going through some kind of expressionist nightmare – or indeed an extreme winter sport – doesn't even hold through the first song. The text is littered with fond memories of a man who makes it quite clear he's "got lucky" and has now moved on without regret. If he's out on the road, then at least part of the time throughout the narrative, he admits it's through his own choice. That idea is reinforced by Schubert's modulation to the major key for the last stanza of that first song (the composer, incidentally uses the same modulation, with similar nudge-nudge intent in Helene's Romanze from the opera Die Verschworenen)

We remained in rapt concentration and silence for a good long while after the final chord had subsidedThe pressure of performing for live radio seemed to have reached Gilchrist and Tilbrook at the beginning of the cycle, but reticence and caution were short-lived. The vocal and physical gestures became more expansive and persuasive. Gilchrist began to really trust the voice in the resonant acoustic, and to deliver, particularly in a beautifully shaped account of "Letzte Hoffnung". Tilbrook moved from being punctilious at the beginning, particularly with the short piano postludes to songs, to enjoying the swinging Ländler lilt of "Täuschung": the word "tanzt" hasn't crept into the first line of that song by accident or for nothing.

The range of interpretative possibilities in these songs goes right through to the end. Gilchrist prefers his narrator – who has become a singer and gained a potential accompanist – to end the evening forlorn. It's the standard interpretation, and his vision of bleakness certainly produced a memorable impact with the audience. We remained in rapt concentration and silence for a good long while after the final chord had subsided, and before breaking out into ecstatic applause. But I can never lose from my mind Brigitte Fassbaender's take on that closing stanza. She made the narrator (no longer just a solitary wanderer, he's been transformed into an itinerant performer) suggest to the hurdy-gurdy man that they should head off together and perform the cycle again somewhere else, conveying the idea that a new life, of performing together might even be enjoyable and worthwhile for both of them.

Which is more like the sentiment I'd want to apply to Gilchrist and Tilbrook's fascinating reading of these songs. I look forward to hearing it again, as they continue to find new heights and depths in this inexhaustibly inspired work.

Anna Tilbrook enjoyed the swinging Ländler lilt of Täuschung: the word 'tanzt' hasn't crept into that song for nothing


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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