Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Jonas's Winter Journey

The CD you've been waiting for is out at last - the official release date in the UK was yesterday - and sure enough, it's a humdinger.

Winterreise is a piece that has scared us, devastated us and left us musing on Schubert's state of mind: why was he drawn to create art that evokes emotions so far beyond despair? I was in a seminar group for it during my student days and we analysed it every which way, but there is always a kernel within it that eludes such treatment. You can see how Schubert manipulates the key structure to carry you downwards with the protagonist; you can  understand that the dancing lilt of 'Täuschung' is a recycling - it pops up in his opera Alfonso und Estrella in a totally different incarnation (thank you, Christian Gerhaher, for recording this) - but do we really understand what drove Schubert, how his genius was fired by such snowy bleakness? Of course not. We know how he burrows into the dark recesses of the heart - but we can never truly know why.

There are of course many fine interpretations on record, some of which you need to feel very strong to hear - my previous "benchmark" is the one by Matthias Goerne with Alfred Brendel at the piano. But this new disc by Jonas Kaufmann and his pianist and mentor Helmut Deutsch can leave you wondering if perhaps it is worth winter existing, even with the snow in the US and the storms here and the wind and the rain and the darkness, just so that Schubert could write this work and they could perform it. It is not just the depth of Kaufmann's conviction that makes it special, but the skill with which he projects the meaning: his diction is of course magnificent, but he is able to fill each word and every phrase with colour that holds the entirety of its emotional import. This is truly extraordinary. I reckon you don't need to understand one word of German to follow this story. It's the clearest possible demonstration of just how music becomes a universal language in every sense.

Here are the artists to introduce it on film, on JK's website. http://www.jonaskaufmann.com/en/1/start.html

Intriguingly, the makers of this film are of the Wunderlich family. Yes, that Wunderlich. JK has plenty to say about the great Fritz in our interview, so watch that space...