United States Schubert: Sir Simon Keenlyside (baritone), Natalia Katyukova (piano), Reinberger Chamber Hall, Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio. 19.5.2019. (MSJ)
Schubert – Die Winterreise
The Cleveland Orchestra is fortunate to have a fine and beautiful facility in Severance Hall. If there is one part of the building that is underutilized, it is the exquisite gem in the basement, Reinberger Chamber Hall. Used mostly for pre-concert lectures, the room lives up to its big brother upstairs in terms of sound both clear and lovely. Sunday provided a rare and wonderful concert in the room, with Simon Keenlyside presenting Schubert’s Die Winterreise in advance of his performances of Sibelius songs with the orchestra the following weekend.
Die Winterreise is a dark and disturbing song cycle that traces the course of a man’s dissolution in the wake of a failed relationship. But other works in this manner, including Schubert’s own Die Schöne Müllerin, cannot compare to Die Winterreise for sheer level of devastation. The poetry by Wilhelm Müller is direct and stark, and it provoked Schubert to pen some of the most haunting music ever written.
Keenlyside didn’t just sing or perform, he lived the score. In a remarkably shrewd presentation, it came across as completely guileless, though it must have been carefully prepared. The singer paced the stage, yet never resorted to a fake acting-out of the text. There was no scenery representing the sights he sang about, yet one felt that Keenlyside was really seeing those things. He charted a course just shy of wildness.
The baritone was by no means alone in his venture. Natalia Katyukova was a poised tiger at the piano, responding to the singer’s nuances with her own powerful inflections. One was never aware of two artists at work, because their shaping was unified in a single vision. One couldn’t tell which artist originated some of the inflections nor which one was cuing the beginning of many of the songs
Keenlyside was in excellent voice, running the range from coldly quiet to loudly storming. He pushed his voice hard enough to portray the narrator’s anguish, yet never quite past control. It was moving, though, because it always seemed like he risked being out of control—and that he had to. When Keenlyside reached ‘Das Wirtshaus’ (‘The Tavern’), the devastation was so complete, the listener could feel without question that the song about the traveler continued on, but the narrator had clearly entered a state of mind from which he would never return — devastatingly prophetic for both Wilhelm Müller and Franz Schubert, both of whom died young. The final ‘Der Leiermann’ (‘The Hurdy-Gurdy Man’) rightly teetered on the brink, leaving a frightening silence at the end.
One can only hope that the Cleveland Orchestra will offer more events like this, extras featuring incoming performers (or, for that matter, orchestra musicians) in the wonderfully intimate setting of Reinberger Chamber Hall.
Mark Sebastian Jordan