Review: classical - Sir Thomas Allen at the National Concert Hall
Composed in 1827, Schubert's Winterreise (Winter Journey) is an extraordinary 24-song cycle to texts by German poet Wilhelm Müller. Their heartbreak and despair generated an unusual depth of feeling in the somewhat morose Schubert.
Described as an 'interior drama', Winterreise wanders without a plot as such and throughout its passage there with is really little change of mood where, as he trudges, the central figure is something of a Romantic hero at war with society and condemned, in isolation, to suffer without respite.
Schubert's response to Müller presents music of haunting, otherworldly beauty. Undoubtedly the atmosphere is sombre, yet Schubert's settings are magical and, despite their separate entities, voice and piano are integrated in an indissoluble union.
Winterreise comes through the National Concert Hall's 'Autumn Matinée Series' with the distinguished English baritone Sir Thomas Allen accompanied, with impeccable taste, by his younger compatriot Joseph Middleton. This is a marriage of musical minds serving Schubert with total dedication.
Maybe Thomas Allen's voice has lost some of the even smoothness of its earlier quality and there are very occasional slips in intonation, but these are of little account compared to the overall dignity of his role as interpreter.
Despite the tenebrous nature of many of the poems, Schubert casts them in his own specific translucence and Allen responds to the composer with unfailing vocal shading that can be both boldly dramatic and guardedly expressive. Besides, Allen's innate feeling for phrasing means every note of Schubert is delivered with inherent sensitivity.
There is also plenty of contrast as Thomas Allen varies his voice to suit the moment and none more so than in the grotesque Will o' the wisp dance in Irrlicht and the pictorially atmospheric Frühlingstraum (Spring's dream), which, like the rest of the songs, are clearly enunciated. Through his assiduous artistry, Allen draws one into the ethereal sphere of Schubert's imagination.
While wonderfully understated, Joseph Middleton's accompaniments are still powerfully meaningful as he follows Schubert's flowing melodic lines with natural grace. Assertive and incisive, he is continuously in tandem with Thomas Allen's soul-searching insight into Müller and Schubert.