A Winter’s Journey
Schubert Winterreise D911
Allan Clayton (tenor), Kate Golla (piano), Lindy Hume (director), David Bergman (videographer)
Barbican Hall, London
Wednesday 7 December 2022
Reviewed by John Earls
Before the start of this performance it was announced that Allan Clayton had a chest infection but didn’t want to disappoint the audience who were asked to bear with him. As it turned out there was nothing to bear with and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Many people think that Schubert’s great song-cycle Winterreise shouldn’t be tampered with beyond concentrating on the singing and piano playing in this remarkable work of 24 songs. They would prefer a ‘straight’ concert performance such as that given by Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès in this same hall in January 2015, which was indeed unforgettable (incidentally, Bostridge has written a magnificent book on Winterreise called Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession).
This particular ‘production’ featured video projections of abstract paintings by the late Australian artist Fred Williams on two right-angled screens behind the piano. These gave a sense of landscape although not always the landscapes one might usually associate with this work. It was deftly and beautifully done. Full credit to David Bergman (videographer).
Credit, should also be afforded to director Lindy Hume and artistic director Paul Kildea. Clayton was allowed to wander around the stage although didn’t stray too far from the piano with the exception of cutting a strikingly remote figure at the side of the stage at the beginning and end. There was no overkill, just delicate touches of theatre such as Clayton lying down to sleep under the piano using his coat as a pillow in Rast (Rest). And I wasn’t the only one who chuckled (is one allowed to chuckle during Winterreise?) when a mocking finger was pointed at the pianist sounding the posthorn in Die Post (The mail-coach).
Kate Golla provided fine piano accompaniment. But it was Clayton’s show. Despite the aforementioned ailment his singing was clear, dramatic and immensely moving, Die Nebensonnen (Phantom suns) a case in point. This, combined with his considered theatricality, gave a real sense of going on the journey with him. This will come as no surprise to anyone who saw his stunning performance as Peter Grimes at the Royal Opera House earlier this year.
There is a risk that adding visual accompaniments to this masterpiece detracts (and distracts) from the power and atmosphere of the work itself. In this case they were respectful, complementary and engaging. It was an utterly compelling experience.
John Earls is Director of Research at Unite the Union and tweets at @john_earls