Wealth of emotion, depth of expression

Baritone Matthias Goerne's voice was rich, gravelly yet flexible.
Baritone Matthias Goerne's voice was rich, gravelly yet flexible. PHOTO: KEVIN LEE

Franz Schubert's song cycle Winterreise (Winter's Journey) is one of the greatest settings of words to music, an utterance from the deepest recesses of the human soul.

It was composed in 1827 and the Austrian composer died a year later at the age of 31, unfulfilled in life's aspirations and love. Encompassing 24 songs in a span of about 80 minutes, its title seemed almost autobiographical, reflecting a metaphorical trudge into despair and hopelessness.

The Singapore International Festival of Arts is to be lauded for engaging leading German baritone Matthias Goerne with Austrian pianist Markus Hinterhauser.

Goerne's rich, gravelly yet flexible baritone voice is ideally suited. The opening song Gute Nacht (Good Night) is the protagonist's acceptance of rejection and the beginning of his road to oblivion. Along the way, there are reminders of his failed loves. It is a harrowing path he takes, made all the more human by Goerne's wealth of emotion and depth of expression.

Even in the seemingly lighter songs, the transient joy he experiences proves to be false dawns. His wearied soul finds no rest, harried by village dogs and even graveyards have no place for him. His lot is to wander for eternity, no better expressed in the final song, Die Leiermann (The Organ Grinder) with the piano's desolate drone a foretelling of his bitter fate.



    Matthias Goerne (baritone) with Markus Hinterhauser (piano)

    SOTA Concert Hall/Last Friday

This production has the added dimension of the moving image. Short films in black-and-white animation, projected on a backdrop representing a paper-filled wasteland, accompany the songs.

The films tell another story, which parallel the original conception in darkness and further symbolism: isolation, sexual frustration and mortality being recurrent themes, with the parched veldt a surrogate for an alpine wilderness.

Now one's senses are stretched between following the animations, the projected English transliterations and, most importantly, the per- formers. This production deserves multiple viewings, but bearing in mind that with the most imaginative minds in music, less is more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2015, with the headline 'Wealth of emotion, depth of expression'. Print Edition | Subscribe