Every singer aspires
to a Winterreise. There are literally,
hundreds of recordings. For better or
worse, any new Winterreise had better
have something unique to make it worth
checking out. I really don’t know why
I picked this one out, because many
of the more obscure Winterreises are
obscure for a very good reason! But
it matters a lot to me to keep up with
new, young singers. So I was pleasantly
surprised that I quite enjoyed it.
Oliemans is, on the
basis of this recording a warm, lyric
baritone. It isn’t the ideal choice
for a song-cycle as intense as this,
but it makes a change from tenors and
dark baritones. He’s 29 years old so
his voice will change and develop, but
for the moment it’s light and honey-hued.
He’s worked with Malcolm Martineau,
which is another plus. Most young singers
focus on opera, where the money is,
overlooking the fact that Lieder is
a quite different genre. With a voice
as gentle as Oliemans, Lieder is a good
direction to follow. He takes Erstarrung
a little too slowly to keep up the tension,
but rounds his vowels nicely: it makes
a contrast when the song suddenly bursts
into a fiercer mood. His Lindenbaum
really does promise "Ruhe".
On the other hand, though, this is not
a restful cycle. It’s savage, and surprisingly
resonant with modern ideas of psychology.
It can be a study of alienation, or
anger, or even resilience. If Oliemans
were less reverential and more impassioned,
there’d be more to listen for. In Der
Wegweiser, for example, he gets
the right phrasing for "Ohne
Ruh’ und suche Ruh’" but some
singers can spit this out so you can
feel the restlessness.
Since he writes his
own booklet notes – a good thing in
this age when booklet notes are churned
out without reference to performance
– we can glimpse an idea of what he
feels about the cycle. He says he’s
intrigued "not so much by what
one does find …. as what one doesn’t
find there. Who is the mysterious Wanderer?
…What is his ultimate fate?" He
hears it as a series of "open questions
and emotions" facing a solitary
individual set against the society which
produced him. And indeed, this is true.
That’s why the cycle is best performed
by singers who’ve confronted the questions
even though they don’t have all the
answers. It’s a cycle that some don’t
even want to approach before they’ve
stored up some life experience. I’d
like to hear Oliemans try it again in
twenty years – his interpretation will
be very different then.
Bert van den Brink
is a good, steady pianist, who expresses
the notes clearly and lucidly. He’s
a naturally sympathetic accompanist
– it would be good to hear him again
with other singers and different repertoire.
What’s also interesting
about this recording is that the performers
produced and recorded it themselves.
That can be a recipe for disaster, but
not in this case, I’m pleased to say.
This is a clear, straightforward production
which would do credit to several other
ventures I can think of.
While this is more
a recording for those interested in
up-and-coming performers than in a major
interpretation, it’s good for what it
is. There are many better, but quite
a few worse. Good luck to this pair!