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Oxford Lieder Festival 2009 – Schubert, Winterreise: Holywell Music Room, Oxford, UK 20.10.2009 (LD)

Wolfgang Holzmair baritone

Andreas Haefliger piano

The Holywell was packed to its full capacity in anticipation of a cathartic Winterreise this rainy evening. As ever, Wolfgang Holzmair did not disappoint in his interpretation of Schubert’s bleak and emotive masterpiece.

Holzmair is an expert communicator who has lived and breathed every note of Schubert’s score and every word of Müller’s text on numerous occasions throughout his distinguished song career. Yet, this evening he generously gave us the spontaneity and truth of the despairing narrator on his winter journey as though he were inhabiting the persona for the first time. He skilfully sustained the emotional and dramatic tension of his character from the poignant opening bars of Gute Nacht until the final phrase of his last despairing address to Der Leiermann.

Although Holzmair’s is not a voice of great beauty - indeed he sounded tired at times in his upper register in Gefrorne Tränen and Mut - he is a master of characterisation. His range of tone and colour is exquisite in its detail, from the warmth of the opening of Frühlingstraum to the raging turmoil of the final phrase of Auf dem Flusse, to the controlled dynamic variation of Der Wegweiser. His command of phrasing and colour makes up for any inconsistencies in tone or technical brilliance, and as an audience member wanting to be engaged by a storyteller I was completely drawn into his world of torment and anxiety.

As a duo, Holzmair and Haefliger complement each other convincingly. Haefliger is a highly competent accompanist with an excellent technique to match. Sadly I was not touched emotionally by his contribution to the performance, and his playing at times felt a little pedestrian.

I left the Holywell feeling desolate, so I’d say it was a job well done!

Lyndall Dawson 


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