Review: Leeds Lieder, Schubert Evening, Leeds Town Hall, Thursday 29th October 2020

FRANZ Schubert’s Winterreise - Winter Journey - is widely recognised as the Everest of the classical song repertory. Celebrated English tenor Ian Bostridge is synonymous with both of Schubert’s two great settings of poems by Wilhelm Müller: Winterreise and the earlier, if more optimistic sounding, Die schöne Müllerin.

In the later work, the poet crosses a bleak landscape to a much darker spiritual place. The Wandsworth born tenor first recorded the epic song cycle in 1994 and has long revered it as “the ultimate work” in his repertoire. Bostridge does much more than merely perform Winterreise. He inhabits it. “His” Winterreise becomes a riveting seventy minute-long operatic monodrama. Through each of the twenty four songs, Bostridge’s colouring of the line intensifies the poet’s sorrow for the loss of his beloved and his harrowing final despair. The audience is held in thrall by the tenor’s phrasing and shading of dynamics, infused by what is perhaps his unrivalled understanding of Müller’s text. Leeds Lieder director Joseph Middleton is the deeply perceptive pianist in a work that is a collaboration of equals. Middleton has a way of mining every note and bathing it in this rich acoustic

The desolate last song, Der Leiermann (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man) ends with the poet asking “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?” That question is left hanging in the air.

Bostridge bowed low, his head resting on the piano for nearly a minute. The proverbial pin could be heard to drop, before a storm of applause for singer and pianist.

An unforgettable evening began with three of Schubert’s Ellens Gesang (Ellen’s Song) performed by Harriet Burns and Joseph Middleton. Burns is a graduate of the Guildhall Opera School and a former Oxford Lieder young artist whose vocal agility and brightness of tone effortlessly filled the barrel vaulted auditorium. The emerging young soprano’s performance of the famous Ava Maria was beautifully shaped and projected.

by Geoffrey Mogridge