Alice Coote & Julius Drake at Wigmore Hall – Franz Schubert’s Winterreise

Winterreise, D911

Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano) & Julius Drake (piano)

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 12 November, 2019
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Alice CootePhotograph: Jiyang ChenThere is always something special about an extended period of deeply considered silence at the conclusion of a performance that lingers long after the final reverberations of the music has ended and even after the performers have finally relaxed from their artistic immersion. Thus, it was here; so much so that the hush almost threatened to become as uncomfortable as the performance had been uncompromising. Winterreise, Franz Schubert’s great 24 song cycle, was here sung without interval with Alice Coote and Julius Drake making a persuasive argument for having these songs performed with a female voice rather than the more frequently heard baritone or baritonal tenor.

Coote is not afraid to use both raw tone and vibrato-less vocal production to illuminate the text and enhance the mood set within the piano score and vocal line. She uses both hollow and warm tones and an impressively stentorian lower register as well as daring dynamics to accomplish this. Examples of fascinating moments included the haunting hushed tones with which Coote intoned the second stanza of ‘Wasserflut’ or the ringing intensity of the sound deployed for “Ei Tränen, meine Tränen…” in ‘Gefrorne Tränen’. There was great delicacy and a sense of awe in the avian depictions of ‘Die Krähe, bleakness at the end of ‘Das Wirtshaus’ and a palpable feeling of physical and emotional ache and exhaustion that permeated ‘Rast’. Drake’s playing was brilliant too – wonderful urgency and drive to ‘Erstarrung’ and counterpoint between expectation and realism in ‘Die Post’. Sometimes the lilt of his playing in songs such as ‘Täuschung’ or variance of mood in ‘Frühlingstraum’ brought much needed softening of the mood at various points, even if the fatalism and occasional ferocity integral to Coote’s interpretation ultimately dominated. One might not want such a direct and fervent reading every time but, as remarked, the audience was very receptive of it.

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