Trepidation misplaced as song cycle triumphs

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Pianist Bradley Gilchrist and , soprano Susannah Lawergren perform “Winterreise”. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / “Winterreise”. Susannah Lawergren, soprano; Bradley Gilchrist, piano; The Song Company. At Wesley Music Centre, October 6, reviewed by LEN POWER.

HAVING only heard Schubert’s “Winterreise” song cycle sung with the male voice, this performance by soprano, Susannah Lawergren, was approached with great interest and a little trepidation.

Composed originally for the tenor voice by Franz Schubert in 1827 to a setting of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller, it is the second of Schubert’s two great song cycles on Müller’s poems, the earlier being “Die schöne Müllerin” from 1823.

The song cycle details a man’s grief over a lost love, taking us on an emotional journey from anger and despair through the torment of false hopes and the path to resignation.

The words of the poem refer clearly to a man’s loss of the love of a woman. The challenge for a female singer is to find a valid interpretation that an audience can accept and relate to. Susannah Lawergren chose to sing of the loss of a child.

It is the emotional content of the work that makes it so powerful and, while the words in the poems are occasionally at odds with this interpretation, it resonated so strongly that it worked extremely well.

Singing the cycle entirely from memory – a major feat in itself – Lawergren added considerable depth to her performance with the well-thought out use of a scarf, a leafless tree branch and spare movement to create a believable character for this journey.

Her singing of the cycle was superb throughout.  Her beautifully clear soprano, accurate pronunciation of the German text and the emotional range and pace of her performance resulted in an extraordinarily moving and memorable experience of this great work.

The playing of the accompanying pianist is equally important to the success of any performance of this work.

Schubert’schallenging music ranges across the emotions of the traveller and surrounds them with the sounds of nature and location. Bradley Gilchrist gave a brilliant performance of this cycle from start to finish.

These consummate performers gave the audience a musical experience that was exceptional. The thunderous applause from the audience at the end of the concert was well-deserved.

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