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Gerald Carpenter: English Tenor to Sing Schubert’s Crowning Achievement at Lobero

Pianist Wenwen Du and tenor Ian Bostridge will perform Schubet’s “Winterreisse” at the Lobero Theatre on Thursday.
Pianist Wenwen Du and tenor Ian Bostridge will perform Schubet’s “Winterreisse” at the Lobero Theatre on Thursday. (Stephanie Berger photo)

The Community Arts-Music Association (CAMA) will present the notable young tenor Ian Bostridge with pianist Wenwen Du in recital at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Lobero Theatre, as a part of their Masterseries.

Bostridge's program will consist of a complete performance of Franz Schubert's epic song cycle, Winterreise (Winter Journey), 1827, a setting of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827).

Bostridge has been making quite a name for himself with performances of this work. In addition to his ongoing tour with the cycle, he has recorded it with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, and made a video recording of the complete Winterreise with pianist Julius Drake, which you my watch in its entirety on YouTube. The reviews, uniformly laudatory, have sometimes suggested that the tenor's interpretation bordered on the eccentric or extravagant.

"It was a Winterreise stretched to the breaking point of inherited musical tradition," said one reviewer, breathlessly.

Now there's a big stick to beat up a performer — "inherited musical tradition" — as if as if there were an unbroken apostolic succession for interpretation, bearing Schubert's blessing, from the first performance to the latest. In fact, Schubert sang and played the first performance of Winterreise for a small gathering of his friends, who found them baffling and somewhat off-putting (he was, in any case, not a professional singer). The date, performers and venue of the first public rendering of the whole work is not definitely known, but it was certainly long — perhaps decades — after Schubert's death. The cycle was not recorded until 1928. There is, in truth, no "inherited musical tradition" for the performance of this work, there are just the music, with the composer's markings, and the words.

Winterreise is a long work, and its 24 songs differ from each other only in very subtle, nuanced ways. The gloom of Müller's words is faithfully maintained in Schubert's settings. Bostridge has done his utmost to ensure that his audiences are still awake and listening at the end of his performance, without doing violence to the score, as published. The swelling chorus of approval for his Winterreise attests to the success of his efforts. Those of us, in other words, who are not writing our doctoral dissertations on Schubert's songs will find nothing eccentric about Bostridge's singing: We will find it breathtakingly beautiful.

Single tickets to this Winterreise are $39 and $49. They can be purchased at the Lobero box office (33 E. Canon Perdido), by phone at 805.963.0761 or online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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