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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Winterreise D 911 (1827)
Matthias Goerne (baritone)
Markus Hinterhäuser (piano)
William Kentridge (visualisations) A Trio for Schubert (bonus documentary)
rec. live, 8 & 15 July 2014, Darius Milhaud Conservatory, Aix-en-Provence.
Sound format: PCM stereo
Picture format: 16:9
Picture standard: NTSC
Region code: 0 C MAJOR 738008 DVD [138 mins]
This impressive production was recorded at the 2014 Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, but my strong recommendation would be to watch first the documentary extra A Trio for Schubert. With clips of the musicians in intimate rehearsal, Goerne sitting next to Hinterhäuser or pretty much singing into the piano, you get a palpable sense of the unbreakable link between the vocal and the instrumental – that there is no sense of solo plus accompaniment, but an absolute unity both in the composed concept and this interpretation. Both musicians give vital insights into the music and their ways of inhabiting its world and delivering its message, living the music and drawing on every ounce of personal experience and universal humanity.
William Kentridge’s work is explained both in collaboration with the musicians and in a lifetime’s ‘preparation’ for such a production, drawing on decades of material already created. It’s interesting to hear how, in advance, the entire idea was greeted with scepticism by Goerne and predicted to be ‘a complete disaster’ by others, but Kentridge’s idea avoids cliché ideas of turning Winterreise into Grand Opera. His animated images add layers of association, not presenting finished ‘art’, but playing on the imagination – avoiding a literal tracking of the words in the text, but exploring the strangeness and atmosphere in the songs. Goerne is not asked to ‘act’, although there are clear relationships between his movements and the projected images. This all occurs within Goerne’s natural movements and there are no overdone gestures.
The problem with the actual film is one of choice between the experience of the audience, with singer interacting with and inhabiting the production as a whole, or showing the images purely as animations on screen. It is of course a compromise as is every recording. Better that we were there to experience it as a whole, but whether we see the singer in close-up and miss the developing images for a few moments, or take in the details of a section of transition in a way more divorced from the stage setting: this is an almost endless sea of possibilities that has to be solved decisively, and the video editing here is about as good as it can be, with no real moments of frustration to distract while viewing.
With some concert video recordings it’s easy to switch off the screen and just enjoy the music, but in this case the physicality of Goerne’s presence and his expression of emotion in every aspect of the performance is something which, beyond the unity of art and music in the film, is an essential part of the whole: “I play with everything I have”. This physicality, beyond just the familiarity of a sound recording, is something that William Kentridge also points out as a revelation. Beyond describing each song, this is a simple enough reason for recommending that fans of Winterreise explore this production, even if they already have a substantial collection on which to draw. This is also a version of Wintereisse that is highly recommendable to those who might have found the work to be hard going up to now. The song titles appear on screen as part of the animation, and the images used are sometimes words or calligraphic gestures rather than more figurative illustrations – a balance of contrast that works very well indeed.