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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Winter Journey (1827, arr. Matthew Gee, b. 1982)
Matthew Gee (trombone)
Christopher Glynn (piano)
Rec. 2018, Turner Sims, Southampton, UK
Premiere recording
NAXOS 8.574093 [71:06]

Having reviewed several Winterreise recently and having another one in the pipeline it seemed an interesting proposition to listen to an all-instrumental version of the cycle. The trombone is an instrument that is very close to the human voice, insofar as it can produce any notes, any intervals and also play a glissando. Good breath control is also essential and a good friend who is a trombonist listened in his youth – and later as well – to Jussi Björling to learn how to play. We even organized a concert some years ago where he performed arias and songs from Björling’s repertoire in his own transcriptions for trombone and piano. Listening to Matthew Gee playing his own arrangements of Winterreise I felt again the closeness between the human voice and the trombone. He phrases like a singer, he makes nuances just as sensitively and he even indulges in little portamenti for extra emphasis, just as a singer sometimes does. The arrangements follow strictly Schubert’s intentions. Once or twice he changes octave – which a singer with respect for the composer hardly would consider – but it is done with taste and elegance. In several songs he employs mutes to get another tone colour. This is something a singer can’t do, but this is also done with taste. Knowing the texts more or less by heart it was easy to associate the individual songs with the mood and the situation that Schubert wanted to conjure forth and I was soon deeply involved, tears filling my eyes when we approached the last half-dozen songs. But I wonder how a person completely unacquainted with Winterreise would react. Though Wilhelm Müller’s poems may not be literary masterpieces they very explicitly describe concrete situations and feelings. But would the innocent listener feel the atmosphere of The linden tree? Would he/she get the sense of expectation when the postman comes galloping? Would he/she feel the chill of Stormy morning or the resignation of Three suns?

We are sometimes talking of “absolute music” which isn’t about anything. It’s just music. Could the innocent listener, if he/she was told that these two dozen tunes are just “tunes”, derive pleasure from the tunes? The linden tree definitely. It’s a catchy tune – and played so beautifully and sensitively. On the river and Will-o’-the-wisp probably, the latter played so marvellously softly that the listener just says: Can you play so softly on a trombone? Dreaming of spring would most certainly attract the listener for the fresh melody – there is an unmistakable outdoor feeling. I’m less certain about the later songs. They are unmistakably sad and probably the listener would ask: Are you sure there isn’t a story behind? So strong is the intrinsic power of Schubert’s music that even an innocent listener can read between the lines. And I suspect that if I produced the texts the listener would nod and say: I knew!

In popular music, at least back in my youth, it was quite common that popular songs were played in lavish arrangements by Mantovani, Frank Chacksfield and other orchestras and I was satisfied with that since not all the popular singers of the day were to my liking. So even though you who are reading this review are uncertain whether you like the music, should lend an ear to this disc to enjoy the absolutely superb playing of Matthew Gee. His accompanist Christopher Glynn is also a masterly pianist, even though I at times thought he was slightly too recessed. Trombonists should of course order a copy at once. But why not buying a recording with a singer as well and enjoy how well Schubert’s music catches the content of Müller’s texts. Or why not getting Müller’s texts and listen to Matthew Gee with lyrics in hand and hear how well he interprets the texts without words. This is a deeply fascinating disc that can satisfy in many different ways.

Göran Forsling

1. Goodnight [5:45]
2. The Weather Vane [1:43]
3. Frozen Tears [2:30]
4. Frozen Solid [2:50]
5. The Linden Tree [4:27]
6. Flood [4:02]
7. On the River [3:20]
8. Turning Back [2:03]
9. Will-o’-the wisp [2:29]
10. Rest [3:36]
11. Dreaming of Spring [3:45]
12. Loneliness [2:53]
13. The Post [2:14]
14. The Grey Head [2:48]
15. The Crow [1:49]
16. Last Hope [2:04]
17. In the Village [2:58]
18. Stormy Morning [0:51]
19. A Mirage [1:18]
20. The Signpost [4:10]
21. The Inn [4:12]
22. Courage [1:30]
23. Three Suns [2:47]
24. The Hurdy-gurdy Man [3:51]

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