Baritone Wolfgang Holzmair delivered a convincing performance as a wandering poet who had lost his way in a concert of Franz Schubert's legendary song cycle "Winterreise" Wednesday night in the Martinos Auditorium of the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts.
In a feat of great endurance and nuanced musicality, Holzmair performed all 24 movements from "Winterreise." The performance lasted around an hour and a half, and Holzmair took virtually no pauses between the songs.
"Winterreise" depicts the journey of a poet whose beloved has chosen another man. Over the course of the song cycle, the poet meanders through the wintry countryside, viewing traces of his love in all of his surroundings. The piece is a staple of romantic vocal repertoire.
Holzmair's preparation for the role starts hours before the concert, he said. The baritone has performed the song cycle on other occasions. The character and his journey are not the same every time, Holzmair said.
Though Holzmair said he felt under the weather, his performance did not show any traces of vocal obstacles. "Given the circumstances, I could tell my story," he said.
"You will not hear this done again like this," said David Josephson, professor of music. "This man is beyond words to get into that (character's) soul."
"Winterreise," like many classical song cycles, requires a duality on the part of the vocalist, who serves as both musician and actor.
But the acting is extremely different from the kind one encounters in a play or a musical. Holzmair used no props or costumes and allowed the natural emotion of his voice to add a plot beneath the German lyrics.
His voice acquires a different character depending on how much power he chooses to use to support it. His quieter moments displayed a smooth and dark color, while he often used a louder sound as his register climbed in pitch.
In several of the songs, such as "Erstarrung" (Numbness), Holzmair flaunted an operatic sheen to his voice not often found in performances of Schubert's song cycles — but effective nonetheless.
Holzmair's voice was accompanied by the precise and understated piano playing of Russell Ryan. Ryan managed to provide strong musical enforcement while, at the same time, successfully taking a back seat to the soloist. "Winterreise" has a complex and effective piano part which contributes to the plot as much as the vocals. Holzmair was the wayward poet and Ryan was the wintry scenery.
If Holzmair felt any signs of fatigue in his voice in the final few songs, it was hard to tell. By the end, the wandering poet had completely lost his way, and Holzmair's voice revealed a loneliness that seemed too great even for the massive hall in the Granoff Center.