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Two Moors Festival 2009 - Schubert, Winterreise: Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone)Andreas Haefliger (piano), St Michael’s Church, Milverton, Somerset, UK 17.10. 2009 (AB)

I was looking forward immensely to hearing Winterreise performed locally by this renowned duo as the final recital of this year’s Two Moors Festival, which had a very imaginative programme of concerts and events, directed by Andreas Haefliger.

It became apparent that I was not alone as the church was filled nearly to capacity with others also keen to hear this great song cycle “live” here in Somerset. The presence of the now  famous Imperial grand piano donated to the Two Moors Festival by Bosendorfer standing in front of the carved rood screen added further interest. [Note: The festival suffered a true catastrophe in April 2007 when its original £45,000 Bosendorfer fell 2.5 metres onto open ground while being transported and was damaged beyond repair. With huge generosity, Bosendorfer donated a new instrument to the festival organisers as a replacement. Ed.] So, the anticipation was there from an audience hungry to hear a great work performed by international artists and using the superb new piano. I was glad that I had researched the websites for both artists before the recital, as well as having taken along my old LP with the text in German and an English translation, since the audience was provided only with the text in English and no other information.

My knowledge of Winterreise stems from hearing Britten and Pears perform it in the days when used to visit Aldeburgh for recitals whilst I was at school, followed by other performances in London by artists such as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. You could not get a greater contrast between the former and the far more dramatic performance given by Holzmair and Haefliger yesterday.

Holzmair and Haefliger presented the work as  full-blooded drama and with wide-ranging emotions. Holzmair realised quickly that his forte singing produced too much reverberation and a “crack” in the acoustics of the church and adjusted his volume slightly to accommodate this. His performance scaled the whole range of the traveller’s hope and despair, memories both sad and happy, the bleakness of his winter journey and of nature,  with such character and presence that the audience was captivated throughout.

With my German text aligned with the English paraphrase, I was able to admire Holzmair’s excellent diction, his attention to detail and the way he used every word, every slight pause, to create the appropriate atmosphere of every individual song. Haefliger’s piano tone for the softer passages and sharp fortes for more dramatic words or phrases had been meticulously thought out and planned, but was always delivered with both passion and conviction.

The last song  in particular, “Der Leiermann” (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man) started with a evocative piano introduction from Haefliger, who produced the bell-like sounds evoking the stillness of the hard winter’s day with the old Hurdy-Gurdy man playing his music, while Holzmair brought out all of the true pathos and despair of this final song which ended with a  full  minute or so of silence from the enraptured audience – who then  gave the artists a well-deserved standing ovation.

The organisers of the Two Moors Festival deserve much gratitude for bringing these fine international artists to this small Somerset village.

Angela Boyd

The recital will be repeated this evening October 20th as part of the Oxford Lieder Festival which runs until October 31st. Details from:

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