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Oxford Lieder Winterreise (Susan Elkin reviews)

Oxford Lieder Winterreise

All the way from the resonant arpeggios of Gute Nacht to the haunting, wistful A minor pianissimo of Der Leiermann, this is an elegant, thoughtfully judged Winterreise. We are taken, very effectively, on the final journey.

Dietrich Henshel is an admirably unshowy performer. He stands simply beside the piano without swaying or arm waving. The drama is entirely in his voice and face but there’s plenty of it. His Der Lindenbaum is warmly impassioned, his Fruhlingstraum finds a lovely lilt in the opening bars and his high notes and big intervals  are nicely controlled in Letzte Hoffnung. I found his Die Wetterfahne a bit breathy but it’s a fairly minor quibble.

Warmest praise too for Sholto Kynoch’s work on piano. These pieces are – when performed as sensitively as this –  definitely duets rather than songs “accompanied” by piano. In Der Wegweiser, for example, Kynoch’s exquisite playing really highlights the breathless effect.  Interestingly Kynoch manages his music by technological alchemy – a tablet on the music stand, presumably controlled by a left foot blue tooth pedal. It’s a neat way of precluding the need for a human page turner in close proximity in these Covid-compliant times – if you’re brave enough.

The concert began with emerging artist Anna Cavaliero singing two Schubert songs. Her singing is crisp and warm and she, too, has a tightly integrated rapport with Kynoch on piano.

It’s good to be back in the Holywell Room, with Petroch Trelawny as the ever urbane, competent, knowledgeable link man. I wish, however, we didn’t have to have those lights decorating the balusters behind the piano which, when you watch digitally, connote all the gaudiness of cheap Christmas decorations.

An advantage of watching digitally, though, is the way the subtitles are now managed. You are given the whole poem at the side of the screen with a moving highlight so that you know exactly where you are and a line by line translation at the bottom of the screen. As a non-Germanist I like this although I suspect purists might find it irritating. It’s new technology for Oxford Lieder so I’ll make allowances for the couple of times when the performance moved to the next number but the printed text didn’t.

First published by Lark Reviews:

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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