Date of EventMonday, 25. 5. 2020 from 20.00
Expected end of the concert 21.45
Event placeRudolfinum – Dvořák Hall
Price350 - 1 200 CZK
- Franz Schubert: Winterreise, song cycle set to verse by Wilhelm Müller Op. 89 D 911
- Adam Plachetka - bass-baritone
- Gary Matthewman - piano
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The year 2020 marks the fifteenth anniversary of Adam Plachetka’s debut at the National Theatre in Prague. Since that time he has covered a lot of ground: in August 2007 he made his first appearance at the Salzburg Festival (he continues to perform there). In September 2010 he became a permanent member of the Vienna State Opera company, where he has created numerous roles, Don Giovanni among them. 2012 saw his debut at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and two years later he sang at Milan’s La Scala for the first time. He applies his exceptional talent not only on the operatic stage, but also in concert, performing Baroque music and the song repertoire.
The breadth of his talent was witnessed by Prague Spring audiences on various occasions. His first appearance occurred in 2009, when he featured in two programmes, one with Collegium 1704 in Händel’s Rinaldo, and the second with a cast performing Dvořák’s Te Deum for the closing concert. The following year he excelled once again in two very different roles – in Bohuslav Martinů’s Kytice and in an evening of songs dedicated to the memory of Eduard Haken where, in addition to songs by Ravel, Sibelius and Mozart, he also included Arnold Schönberg’s Brettl-Lieder.
This is Adam Plachetka’s tenth appearance at the Prague Spring, and he’s bringing a special programme with him this year in which he will give a concert performance of Franz Schubert’s Winterreise (Winter Journey), a work he recorded in the studio in the autumn of 2019. Joining him on both the recording and the concert platform is pianist Gary Matthewman, a leading British accompanist focusing on the song and Lieder repertoire and regular guest of London’s Wigmore Hall, Vienna’s Musikverein and New York’s Carnegie Hall. He received his musical education in Vienna, where he made the acquaintance of Adam Plachetka. “One evening in 2010 I organised a Schubertiade of sorts around my little piano at home. It was snowing heavily at the time,” remembers Matthewman. “We had plum cake and mulled wine, and my friend, a soprano at the Vienna State Opera, brought five of her colleagues with her. One of them was Adam Plachetka. And the Lieder from Winterreise were among the first that we did together.”
His sense of the dramatic
During the Biedermeier period songs provided an outlet for emotions that were suppressed and remained private in the Metternich era. For Franz Schubert, who had an extraordinary talent for melody, the art song was an exquisite form of artistic expression. His oeuvre contains over six hundred songs.
The composer greatly admired Goethe, proof of which lies in the fact that he wrote musical settings for more than fifty of his poems. He was also drawn to the work of Wilhelm Müller – a poet, soldier and librarian from Dessau in Germany. Schubert wrote two major cycles to his poems, Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, captivated as he was by their imagery, their somewhat picturesque qualities, and their comprehensibility.
Winterreise is a musical setting of texts which came out in a collection entitled Poems from the posthumous papers of a travelling horn-player. They describe the tale of a young man who, wounded by unrequited love, sets out on a pilgrimage through the wintry landscape. It is interesting to note that Müller dedicated the collection to composer Carl Maria von Weber, who was the godfather of his son. Weber never wrote a setting for the collection from 1824; he died in 1826 and thus never heard Schubert’s treatment either. The latter wrote his Winter Journey in 1827, a year before his death. It contains twenty-four songs of a largely sombre tone which resonated with the bleak mood of post-Napoleonic Europe. They also resonated with Schubert himself who was in poor health and suffered from melancholy at that time. Nevertheless, Schubert was too fine a composer to leave the entire cycle in a single frame of mind. His sense of the dramatic and his appreciation for structure make for a rewarding experience and, at its close, this 75-minute cycle gives listeners a powerful sense of catharsis.
Winterreise was originally written for tenor, but other versions appeared for lower voices which perhaps capture the mood of the cycle with even more conviction. It was the celebrated German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau who brought fame to the work in the latter half of the 20th century, both on the world stage and on seven (!) complete recordings. We should also mention the fact that his piano partners included Daniel Barenboim, Alfred Brendel and Murray Perahia. On each occasion Dieskau gave Winterreise a unique feel, thus calling attention to the extraordinary quality of a work in which performers at various stages in their careers have the opportunity to convey diverse interpretations.
The complete cycle has thus far only been performed once at the Prague Spring – in 1986 it was sung by the then 50-year-old tenor Peter Schreier, accompanied on the piano by Sviatoslav Richter.
Schubert was young when he wrote the cycle
Many might wonder why Adam Plachetka and Gary Matthewman – both in their thirties and in their prime – wish to perform a work full of desolation. “I don’t agree with people who say that, in order to perform Winterreise, the artist has to wait until he’s at least fifty,” counters Matthewman. “Schubert was young when he wrote the cycle, even though his life was drawing to a close. The musical setting is also based on a young poet’s work. And the energy and passion in a number of the songs speak of a young man.” (Excerpt from an interview printed in the booklet for the recently released CD)
The recording is striking for its lyrical interpretation and carefully drafted dramatic accents, and also for the sedate tempos in the slow songs. “I don’t know why but, in Winterreise, I’m inclined towards freer tempos. I very quickly recognise which tempos suit my voice, and I try to stick with them,” says Plachetka. “So this is our current version. We feel it’s the right one for today. Maybe if we record Winterreise in ten years’ time, our vision and approach will be completely different,” Matthewman adds.
And how will Winterreise mature in the months leading up to their concert performance in May? Let’s wait and see.