Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Matthias Goerne and His Magnificent Winterreise

I attended the German baritone Matthias Goerne's Sunday evening concert at Davies Hall of Schubert's final song-cycle Winterreise, and the performance was magnificent, legendary. Though German Lieder recitals are close to the bottom of my list of cultural favorite things, so much has been written over the years about Winterreise and Goerne that it seemed time to give both a chance, and I am glad to have ventured out. Thanks also to Patrick Vaz who told me the 80-minute song cycle about a mopey man whose heart has been broken is as much a bleak Beckett comedy as it is a heavy, Germanic musing on mortality.

If you go to many classical concerts in San Francisco, there are a few people who seem to attend every one, while there are a few concerts which attract all the extremely discriminating musical connoisseurs you never see in public otherwise. Sunday's Winterreise was one of the latter events.

James Parr above is one of those people who seem to be at every concert. Last weekend, in fact, he was a Cultural Iron Man, going to Opera Parallele's Trouble in Tahiti on Friday, battle hymns on Saturday, a Bach organ mass in Davies on Sunday afternoon, topped off with Winterreise Sunday evening.

I listened to Winterreise repeatedly over the last week with a recording by tenor Ian Bostridge accompanied by pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. Bostridge is lovely, but the piano playing of Andsnes is breathtaking. At the live Sunday performance, the situation was reversed. Pianist and conductor Christoph Eschenbach was okay, but Goerne gave one of those performances that will stick in your brain forever. Looking like a big, tormented, German slab of beef, reminiscent of the antihero in Fassbinder's 15-hour Berlin Alexanderplatz telefilm, he proceeded to intimately guide the huge hall on a journey that was equal parts crazy, despairing, and beautiful.


Hattie said...

Wonderful comments. Glad to have discovered your blog. My favorite Winterreise is Dietrich Fischer Dieskau's.

Civic Center said...

Dear Hattie: Thanks for the kind words. And I'll track down a DFD recording of Winterreise because I remember him being the gold standard about three decades ago.

Axel Feldheim said...

I think each time I've heard Goerne in recital, he had a different accompanist. I found Eschenbach's playing distracting. Goerne's recital with Andsnes last year was more of a pairing of equals, but I liked him best with a pianist called Alexander Schamlcz, who was supportive without drawing attention to himself.

Yes, that Mr. Parr does seem to go to everything. How come it took us so long to notice him?