A Winter’s Journey review – vivid colours, of voice and visuals, enrich Schubert’s song cycle

Barbican, London
Animating Winterreise with works by Australian painter Fred Williams created striking moments, but Allan Clayton’s voice brought power and drama enough of its own

What is it about Schubert’s Winterreise that persuades stage directors that this greatest of song cycles needs a bit of help visually to enhance its extraordinary power? Compared with the excesses of some of the earlier stagings, Lindy Hume’s version for tenor Allan Clayton and pianist Kate Golla, which toured Australia this summer under the auspices of Musica Viva Australia, may be a relatively restrained affair, using images from the paintings of Fred Williams to mirror the thoughts of Schubert’s traveller as he moves through the frozen landscape, but ultimately it still seems a rather unnecessary exercise.

Video projections of Williams’s paintings are on two screens placed behind the piano, sometimes moving frieze-like from left to right, sometimes assembled layer by layer. Never intrusive or distracting, they are sometimes strikingly beautiful. Meanwhile, as the protagonist, Clayton moves circumspectly around the piano between numbers, though he begins and ends the cycle isolated in semi-darkness at the side of the platform, lit by a low-level spot that creates menacing expressionist shadows. At one point he lies down to sleep, using his jacket as a pillow, but for much of the cycle his gestures and movements are no more theatrical than they might be in a “straight” concert performance.

Yet the imagery in Wilhelm Müller’s poems, whether weather vane or crows, linden tree or organ grinder, all so transmuted by Schubert’s settings, has a vividness that needs no external props at all. With fine support from Golla, Clayton’s performance ensured that every one of those sound pictures was as immediate as it could be. It was announced before the performance that the tenor was suffering from a throat infection yet had decided to continue with the performance. But nothing in his singing suggested that he was under the weather. The clarity of his diction, his range of dynamics and colour were all exemplary; one shared the experiences of this winter journey not through any extra dramatic devices, but simply through the power of the songs and the way in which they were presented.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Maxim Rysanov: In Schubert’s Company CD review – rhapsody and force amid elegance

Erica Jeal

27, Jul, 2017 @5:15 PM

Article image
Schubert’s Winter Journey by Ian Bostridge should not be overlooked | Letters
Letters: Bostridge ponders the place of song in German culture, her discuses politics, science, history and philosophy, the thoughts that arise as he prepares to perform Schubert’s wonderful work


06, Dec, 2015 @7:51 PM

Article image
Schubert: The Piano Trios, etc review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
The late pianist is outstanding in these last recordings, accompanied by his longtime collaborators, the violinist Christian Tetzlaff and his cellist sister Tanja

Andrew Clements

09, Feb, 2023 @3:00 PM

Article image
From Schubert to Sinatra: why the song cycle speaks to the heart
A new English version of Die Schöne Müllerin offers a reminder as to why it’s Sinatra – not his classical contemporaries – that matches Schubert in ambition

Christopher Fox

07, Oct, 2016 @2:00 PM

Article image
Schubert: Arias & Overtures CD review – stylish and spirited
The idiosyncratic L’Orfeo Barockorchester could benefit from refinement, but tenor Daniel Behle holds his own

Erica Jeal

29, Jun, 2017 @5:30 PM

Article image
Solitude review | Erica Jeal's classical album of the month
Singer James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook explore aspects of being alone with composers including Purcell and Schubert on a powerful, poised album

Erica Jeal

09, Jul, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
Schubert Symphony No 9 review | Erica Jeal's classical album of the week
Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev inspires the SCO in Schubert’s massive work, with grandeur and great washes of feeling

Erica Jeal

14, Nov, 2019 @3:00 PM

Article image
Ibragimova/Bezuidenhout - Wigmore Hall review – music-making held in almost miraculous balance
Perfectly paired, violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout’s recital was a masterclass in how familiar repertoire can be lifted from the page and fashioned anew

Flora Willson

16, Jun, 2020 @3:46 PM

Article image
Schubert/Berio review – casting light on each other's magic
Combining Schubert’s Ninth Symphony with Berio’s reinterpretation of his unfinished Tenth, this disc has style and spirit

Erica Jeal

21, Jun, 2018 @2:00 PM

Article image
Schubert: Piano Sonatas D960 & D664 CD review – sensitivity and rapture

Kate Molleson

13, Apr, 2017 @3:00 PM