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Review: Winterreise, Barber Institute, University of Birmingham

 

Sir Thomas Allen

What a privilege for a packed house. Here we were listening to Sir Thomas Allen, one of the finest baritones in the world, accompanied by Joseph Middleton, a sensitive and truly talented young pianist, performing one of the young Schubert’s awesome song cycles: Die Winterreise.

Set to 24 poems by Willhelm Muller and described by Schubert as spine-­chilling – for any listener this was truly thought provoking, with dark emotions being revealed throughout.

One wonders how many performances of this work Sir Thomas Allen has presented? What a joy to hear his fresh, flawless voice at every dynamic.

Never a waver with clear German text, matching easily with programme translations alongside for captivated listeners. There was minimum but relevant communication throughout. There was a discreet step forward for added drama, including subtle hand movements with a distinct conviction that this was a story being told to each individual in the venue.

Middleton discreetly joined forces with lovely phrasing and imaginative, but never overwhelming collaborations. His breathless pianissimos are a joy; achingly sad minor passages contrasting with brief flashes of caressing major sunlight. There was splendid clarity for The Post Coach (but, alas, no letter); more ferocity for a brief storm then a heart-­stopping velvety long introduction for a“pitiless tavern”. One wonders what sorrows dear Schubert was experiencing during this period of his short life.

A recital to treasure.

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