Franz Schuberts Die Winterreise (The Winter Journey), a collection of 24 poems by Wilhelm Mller, came to The Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington on Sunday afternoon Feb. 3 at 4 p.m. The performance comprised three performers: baritone Simon Chauss_pianist Eliza Thomas, and narrator (for want of a better word) Tim Tavcar. The performance was under the aegis of WordStage Vermont. It takes serious partnership to succeed in a performance of this monodrama -- for that is what it is -- and many of the important elements needed for success were present in Sundays performance. Within the space of somewhere around 75 minutes, the two musicians must sketch not only the wintry landscape around the protagonist, but the wintry landscape inside him, which is reflected not only in the vocal line, but in the piano part. While it is true that there are very few songs in the cycle that have extended piano lines without voice, the piano limns the two frozen landscapes and provides a musical setting into and over which Schubert sends the voice. Although some might say there are many songs in which the pianist is merely the accompanist, no matter how simple the piano part may seem to be, without a sturdy partnership between piano and voice, the drama falls apart. That having been said, no such event occurred at Sunday's performance. Chauss_as a wonderful sense of drama and the command of voice necessary even to think of attempting something like this song cycle. His sense of the drama was such that the overall architecture of the bitterness of the protagonist moved to its logical d_uement. He has the capability to color individual words as well as phrases to fit the emotional impact of this exemplar of the German Sturm und Drang school. Even in the midst of the bleak landscape that is portrayed, there is time for memories that are much more lyric, no matter how brief: for example, Frhlingstraum, with its recapturing of more pleasant hours in the company of his beloved. Chauss_anaged many of the challenges of the work both vocally and histrionically, and though he needs a little more coaching on his German diction, he sang with great conviction throughout the performance. It was a pleasure to hear him in this great cycle. He acquitted himself extremely well. There were quite subtle places within a number of the songs that Thomas provided apt sonic support and intelligence of phrasing. Sometimes, probably a product of the sonic idiosyncrasies at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, as in the introduction to Der Lindenbaum, the sound of the piano was muddy. Tavcar provided interesting background from Schubert's newly-discovered diary for the performance, including, most poignantly, his reading of Schubert's last letter, written in November 1828, shortly before the composer's untimely death at 31. In the letter, Schubert says he is finishing up reading and correcting the proofs for an edition of this work, and tells his friend that he has just finished reading a German translation of James Fennimore Coopers The Last of the Mohicans, adding that he would appreciate reading more of Cooper's work if his friend can lay hands upon it. The concert was successful on many levels, and I personally thank WordStage Vermont for daring to present this masterpiece. They have two more fascinating concerts scheduled for later this year. One will be music by Frederic Chopin for piano, cello and piano, and some of his songs, accompanied by correspondence between Chopin and George Sand and some of the other members of their coterie; the final evening will be music by Rossini for solo piano, clarinet and piano, and songs and artists by Rossini and his contemporaries, backgrounded by readings from transcribed conversations between Rossini and some of the wittiest members of the artistic salons in Paris. For information:
802-223-1279. Briefly Noted
There is a concert dedicated to music educator Matt Clancy, who died last October. The concert will take place on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Crossett Brook Middle School in Waterbury. The lineup for the concert is available on the website www.swinginvermontbigband.com/Gigs.html. All proceeds from this event are earmarked to go directly to Matt's family.