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Christoph Prégardien [Photo by]
07 Jun 2009

Schubert : Winterreise — Middle Temple Hall, London

Julius Drake’s Temple song series is almost a cult secret -not known to the mass market but highly regarded among those who know, much like the Lieder genre itself.

Song in the Middle Temple, London

Christoph Prégardien, (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)

Above: Christoph Prégardien [Photo by]


This concert took place in Middle Temple Hall, deep in the warren that is London’s Inns of Court. The Knights Templar built the first buildings, and Sir Francis Drake was a regular in Elizabethan times. Sitting in this magnificently panelled hall, you’re surrounded by history. It’s an experience that gives Julius Drake’s series, now in its fourth year, a unique ambience.

The surroundings threw the stark desolation of Winterreise into sharp contrast. Christoph Prégardien has sung some chillingly prescient Winterreises. His light, clear tenor works well because it enhances the vulnerability of the protagonist better than an opulent lower timbre with lusher resonance. This was perhaps not one of Prégardien’s finest performances, but the occasional rough edges and infelicities of phrasing were not necessarily a fault. Indeed, they added a certain immediacy : too polished a performance can dull the harshness of the situation.

Yet Winterreise is not just about the protagonist. The protagonist operates in a specific, clearly delineated landscape. Schubert recognizes the importance of Wilhelm Müller’s recurrent nature imagery. The piano part is extraordinarily descriptive. We hear the frozen raindrops, the trudge of the footsteps on hard ground. Deep snow muffles sound. The protagonist is alone in the stillness. Julius Drake’s playing was lucid, each image precisely evoked. Particularly impressive was the way he created the strange sounds of distorted music, a theme not often appreciated in performances less cognizant of the piano’s role.

In the last song, the protagonist encounters an intinerant beggar who plays a hurdy gurdy as he wanders from village to village. No one listens, he’s chased by dogs, yet still he plays. The piano is a far more sophisticated instrument than the Leiermann’s primitive machine, but perhaps Schubert is telling us about the power of music. It’s almost an act of faith. Drake recognizes how early the hurdy gurdy makes its presence felt. There it is, in Mut, in the jerky, folk like phrases. Its maddened refrain heralds the appearance of the beggar, whoever he may be, wherever he may lead.

Anne Ozorio

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