James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook: "SCHUBERT: Winterreise"
Texts and translations. Orchid Classics ORC1000018
Listeners accustomed to the age associations of operatic voices will inevitably hear the reflective Winterreise as most appropriate to baritones and basses. More recently, however, high-profile tenors have been essaying the cycle, graced with appropriate transpositions.
British tenor James Gilchrist offers many of the right musical and vocal assets for a successful lied performance. His lovely, supported mezza voce, in itself apt for the introspection of "Der Nebensonnen," allows him access to a full dynamic range: he begins "Frühlingstraum" tenderly, expanding into the second strophe with good impulse. In "Rast" and "Der Wegweiser," he articulates the text on an easy legato line. He is sensitive, too, to the expressive potential in musical details — energizing the dotted rhythms of "Mut," coloring the dynamic and mood changes of "Auf dem Flusse" — and he narrates "Der Lindenbaum" and "Irrlicht" with a properly solemn, dignified demeanor.
Against this are the distracting flaws that can beset recitalists. Gilchrist's low range is relatively insubstantial; the "interpretive" breathiness with which he attempts to compensate only emphasizes the hollow tone. The head voice isn't quite sorted out, so the end of "Auf dem Flusse" is problematic; sometimes the mezza voce turns falsetto-y and disconnects, while other upward excursions, as in "Der Krähe," go too open. Gilchrist sometimes colors the text with a whitish tone, even a shallow one in "Im Dorfe," although the rounder, more sustained tone in "Einsamkeit" is effective. The careful enunciation can turn fussy, actively impeding the hurtling line of "Rückblick." There are those who consider such mannerisms part and parcel of song interpretation; others will prefer firmer, more consistent singing over a wider range.
Anna Tilbrook actively supports the soloist with solid tone and firm bass lines. She handles the pictorial elements well — the alternating impulse and hesitation in the introductory phrases of "Im Dorfe," the starkness of "Einsamkeit," the surge in "Wetterfahne" — and finds the buoyancy in the various 6/8 rhythms. She plays the more demanding passages capably but doesn't have room to do much more; the shape of the opening phrase of "Der Lindenbaum" is particularly unclear. Nor is she well served here by an instrument with limited treble. The middle- and low-range chording is full-bodied, but higher tones sound wan and grey, and some of the textures, as in "Frühlingstraum," aren't strongly enough profiled.
STEPHEN FRANCIS VASTA
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