Matthias Goerne (baritone) & Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
Reviewed by: Mark Valencia
Reviewed: 19 June, 2011
Venue: Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
The centrepiece of this year’s Aldeburgh Festival ‘cycle of cycles’ (with Schwanengesang to follow a day later) was a moving, mesmerising occasion. From the outset Matthias Goerne and Pierre-Laurent Aimard showed a depth of commitment to Winterreise that had not been evident during the early stages of Die schöne Müllerin the previous evening. It helped that they were positioned a little closer to the audience and that Aimard’s sustaining pedal seemed to have attended obedience classes, and it may be that Winterreise is simply a better fit for this duo. Whatever the truth of it, both artists communed as one with the music in a reading of unforgettable intensity.
The baritone’s dark timbre is ideal for conveying the poet’s winter journey into heartbreak. There is shade but little light in Müller’s verse, yet Goerne was able to draw iridescence from a palette of the most sombre colours, not least in the near-suicidal irony of ‘Irrlicht’. Before that, the audible shortness of breath that had scarred portions of Müllerin worked to the singer’s advantage in ‘Erstarrung’, where it enhanced his depiction of the protagonist’s emotional agony. ‘Der Lindenbaum’ found both artists at their expressive best, as did the fairytale stillness of ‘Wasserflut’, while Goerne brought a cumulative power to ‘Auf dem Flusse’ that transcended the stately lollop of Aimard’s accompaniment. ‘Frühlingstraum’ was properly invested with the rustle of spring, thrillingly punctuated by rude cock-crow interjections and a terrifying raven scream from the piano. The midpoint setting, ‘Einsamkeit’, was slightly disappointing though thanks to some mannered dynamics that drew attention away from the music and on to the musicians.
The second half of this Winterreise was practically without flaw, and the Maltings audience scarcely breathed for the final half-hour as song after song achieved a state of grace. ‘Die Krähe’ was exquisitely phrased by both artists – and what a foursquare moment it can be in the wrong hands! – while Aimard began ‘Das Wirthaus’ at an impossibly protracted tempo, only for Goerne to slow it down still further and yet maintain both its dramatic arc and musical integrity. At the end of ‘Der Leiermann’, as the organ-grinder receded, the auditorium seemed to float in space for an age until, eventually, a few tentative handclaps (brave souls!) broke in like an intrusion of raindrops that quickly gave way to a thunderstorm of roars and applause.