Oxford Lieder and the Schubert Project
Now you might think that Oxford Lieder with its Schubert Project boldly presenting all of Schubert’s songs was biting off more than can be chewed, or at least risked convincing its audiences that with such a multitude there must be a lot of dross among the gold. I do not know, because over a three-day period I heard only 66 of the more than 600 which were performed (24 in the Allen/Middleton superb rendering of Winterreise – see my blog of 26th October). But on the basis of this limited sample let me express my wonderment at Schubert’s consummate skill as a music dramatist. His ability to communicate aurally portraits of nature, as well as the most powerful emotions of human experience, was confirmed time and again. Changes of key, or from major to minor, modifications to the rhythmic pulse and other music devices serve to illustrate, even enhance, the text; and then there are the (sometimes very brief) postludes in which Schubert reflects on the totality of each poem.
And the Festival is a triumph of imaginative programming – not just of the music but also in drawing on the verbal communicative skills of such Schubert scholars as Graham Johnson and Richard Stokes. The quality of the singers and pianists that I heard was also high. But an interesting distinction emerged. With so many relatively obscure Lieder being sung, understandably some of the singers opted to have the score available to them. There were those, mainly the younger, less established, performers, who had taken the trouble to learn the pieces thoroughly, and this made such a difference. Having fully internalised the works, they were able to communicate their content and themes directly from within themselves, and therefore more effectively. A good lesson for their seniors!