Thursday 12 May 2016

Bostridge Zender Winterreise Dark Mirror Part One

Ar the Barbican, London, "Dark Mirror", Ian Bostridge in Hans Zender's Winterreise, or, to use Zender's full title "eine komponierte Interpretation",a creative response to Schubert's original, not merely an orchestration.  Schubert's response to the poetry of Wilhelm Müller produced a masterpiece  so powerful that it has continued to inspire creative minds ever since.  Read my review here.  It's not a work for passive disengagement. It's been examined and revisited dozens of times in many different ways.  Winterreise lends itself particularly well to visual imagery: every song is a scena, built around a symbol. This is no passive, meandering journey. but purposeful. For the protagonist learns from the crow, the graveyard, the three suns in the sky. These are signposts  - Wegweiser - constantly pointing the way forward.  Die Nebensonnen is remarkable not simply for its hallucinatory effect, but also because it is based on physical observation. In Nature, strange things do happen. After Die Nebensonnen, we're prepared for the resolution (of sorts) with Der Leiermann.

Bostridge's Dark Mirror collaboration with Netia Jones is at least his third realization of the piece as theatre,  There have been numerous others, like Matthias Goerne at Aix with wonderful visual imagery images, (read more here) and Simon Keenlyside's "dance version" with Trisha Brown.  Even Bostridge's book Schubert's Winter Journey is a creative response to the work, much more than yet another commentary. The book, already a classic, is itself tactile, and visual (read more here).  Winterreise is compelling : the more you love it, the deeper you can go, and still find more to marvel.

Zender's Winterreise begins so slowly and quietly that you'd miss it if you weren't paying attention. We hear the sound of muffled footsteps, as if someone were trudging in deep snow.  The  sounds are made by brushing metal sheets on the skin of timpani. Steady pizzicato heartbeats, and tense bursts on wind instruments, exhaling and drawing breath. Very physical. As the pace picks up, a familiar melody, but oddly mechanical. The protagonist is determined to keep going lest his feelings overwhelm him. The vocal,part starts normally enough, but suddenly, from "von einem zu den andern", words repeat mechanically, and the orchestra whizzes into a manic march.  Just as suddenly, a switch back to normal with"Fein Liebchen, Gute Nacht" but now we know the lyricism is forced. The protagonist can't give in to mere beauty but must struggle on.

Zender's music is graphic - including wind machines and guitar - but this is in keeping with the original. Indeed, Zender marks short pauses for contemplation. Years ago, at a Wolfgang Holzmair masterclass, Holzmair told us to listen, like an animal might, sensing which trail to follow. Nonetheless, Zender's music is abstract enough that it's not mere illustration. Sudden turns, strange distorted sounds. Sometimes the singer recites rather than sings, as if he's trying to pick up an invisible trail.  The music throws you off-course, so you're as disoriented as the protagonist and  start thinking like him. The recitations also remind us of the literary background to the cycle: Wilhelm Müller is most certainly present here, for Zender's making a connection to "pathetic fallacy" and the way art interacts with experience.

I first heard Zender's Winterreise in 1994, conducted by Zender himself, with Ensemble Modern and Hans-Peter Blochwitz at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. The musicians moved around the auditorium, like the kind of wandering peasant bands that used to travel from village to village. This is an insight, for the Leiermann is a wandering musician, albeit reduced to the lowest order. But he doesn't stop making music.  And neither will the protagonist stop trying, The idea that he goes mad or dies just doesn't fit the evidence,  Zender's Winterreise is a good "learning" piece because it's so inventive. Coming up next, my response to Bostridge and Netia Jones's Winterreise - HERE IT IS !

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