Gazette review, Richard Turp

With the onset of spring, it was quite a shock to be plunged into the glacial climate of Schubert's Winterreise or Winter's Journey last night at Pullack hall.

It's hardly surprising that Schubert said of his setting of 24 Wilhelm Muller poems that they affected him more than any group of Lieder he had ever written. He called them 'schauerlich' (shuddering) Lieder and their power can effectively shake the foundations of one's soul. 

Schubert's winter voyage of discovery is one dominated by a sense of loss specifically the narrator's loss of innocence and love. That feeling of loss was made all the more tangile and sharply focused precisely because of the youth and spontaneity of the singer, the baritone Nathan Berg. This was in fact his first attempt at the complete Winterreise cycle which is awesome in length (well over an hour) and in its interprative and vocal demands.

Comparisons may be odious but occasionally they need to be made if only to espablish levels of performance. By any critical standands, last night's CBC/McGill concert featuring Berg and pianist Michael McMahon was world-class. Berg is not only part of the exciting new generation of Canadian artists, he also belongs to the new breed of lieder singer. And belongs he most certainly does. 

He has a purebred stallion of a voice, soft-grained, proud, true and eminently flexible, but above all, one of great beauty. He is perhaps more naturally bass-baritone than baritone, and he can float on Schubert's high-lying lines and lighten the tone to magical effect. The poise of the voice allows him to judge the weight of each word and line and strike a balance between consonants and vowels, integrating them into a legato line. His musicality and verbal intelligence are as chiseled and polished as Louis XIV furniture. 

He was constantly alive in the cycle's contrasting and shifting musical and psychological climate, as exemplified by Frulingstraum, which induced in the duo an infinate variety of piano and vocal colors. There were reserves of power and rage in Die Wetterfahne and Der Sturmische Morgen as well as an anguished legato in Erstarrung. Im Dorfe had an inner intensity that was matched only by the claustrophobic eloquence of Die Nebensonnen.

What was equally impressive was the partnership he forged with the magnificent McMahon. As the cycle progressed we felt both an evolution in musical resolve and in dramatic tension. McMahon can create a climate as easily as sustain a phrase while giving the music impetus through an indefinable movement within a musical bass. Alive to the cycle's volatility of mood he engineered a transformation between the harrowing Mut and the exhausted De Nebensonnen that was magical. In fact, magical describes the evening perfectly.

Richard Turp, The Gazette, Apr. 9/1997

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