“Schubertiade” at Mills Hall a True Time-warp Party

One can hardly help but read about “Schubertiades”—those evenings when friends of Franz Schubert would gather at his place and sing and play through the night—and not fervently wish for some sort of a musical time machine to whisk us back a couple of centuries.

Thanks to Bill Lutes and Martha Fischer, we’ve got the next best thing. (They can be seen in the 2010 photo above, courtesy of UW-Madison School of Music).

Saturday night was the third annual Schubertiade presented by this duo, united by academic and musical skills, and joined as spouses. The cumulative effect of the evening was such that I felt even more guilty that I missed the previous two incarnations.

With such a variety of works and performers, it is best to try and give an overview, rather than a “play-by-play” of each work. Lutes and Fischer adopted a theme of “Water, Winds and Woodlands” for the program, and it included a wide variety of songs, a chamber work, and one of the last, great works for piano, four-hands.

As stimulating as the repertoire was the lineup of friends who gathered to celebrate the great composer (whose 219th birthday would have been last Sunday). In addition to our guides (both Lutes and Fischer shared in insightful illuminations of the works as well as giving wonderful performances), there was the considerable attraction of soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine; she has UW-Madison roots, and is growing a significant vocal career. There were folks we don’t usually hear, such as David Ronis, interim director of University Opera, and some of the newest members of the UW School of Music faculty, namely clarinetist Wesley Warnhoff and violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino.

Certainly a highlight for many among the large Mills Hall audience was the lied “Die Forelle” (“The Trout”), followed by the movement from the great quintet that borrows the theme. The song was delivered with appropriately subtle playfulness by Marie McManama, accompanied by Lutes, while the chamber movement was delivered with joyful aplomb by Altino, Sally Chisholm, Parry Karp and Ben Ferris.

Next came the biggest revelations of the first half for this auditor, the songs “Suleika I” and II, with Guarrine supported by Fischer. Lutes had given a wonderful live “program note” in discussing both the poetic origins and the salient musical points.

Only a small handful of composers left any significant music for piano four-hands (there is actually a lot of it out there, much of it for the pleasure of the players rather than posterity), but Schubert is one who hits it out of the park. Lutes and Fischer treated us to the Allegro in A Minor, D. 947. It’s subtitle, “Lebenssturme,” or “Life’s Storms,” may have been the rationale for including it among the more overtly associated nature themes of the rest of the program, but by any name (or none), it was a cherishable contribution from Lutes and Fischer.

It is easy to choose a representative selection of Schubert songs, regardless of theme: He composed over 600 (and he died at age 31!), and one could argue that easily one hundred of them are legitimate minor masterpieces. But no, as much as I’ve loved them, only about half have reached my ears. So it was with great joy we heard a setting of the Twenty-third Psalm for four female voices.

And in case any readers don’t know yet, I’m a former clarinetist, so the appearance of “Shepherd on the Rock,” for soprano, clarinet and piano was highly anticipated. I’ve performed it twice…although 25 years separated the two performances. On neither occasion did I enjoy the collaboration of a singer the caliber of Guarrine; then again, I am no Wesley Warnhoff. Suffice to say that I know the work quite well enough to say that they gave us a heavenly nine minutes of music.

The close was as appropriate as could be: an audience sing-along (full texts had been provided for all fourteen vocal works on the program, and the house lights stayed up, thank you very much!) of “An die Musik.” The closing lines “A sweet sacred chord/Has revealed to me a heaven of better times./Beloved art, for this I thank you!” were the perfect benediction, for, and by the audience.

But wait there was more—a lovely reception and the chance for wonderful musicians and avid listeners alike to verbalize their passion for this timeless music. And now at least I can say I’ve sung with Jamie-Rose Guarrine!

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One thought on ““Schubertiade” at Mills Hall a True Time-warp Party

  1. Not being a particular fan of German lied, during undergrad and music school I had never been much of a Schubert fan. Like most, I did like his Unfinished Symphony but that aside what I learned of his home recitals seemed to impugn the guy as more or less a harmless drunk. Then some years back I had the chance to sub as 2d trombone in the Palos Verde (CA) Peninsula Symphony in which my son was a violinist. We wound up playing Schubert’s Great in Ab Major, I think, and the other 2 trombonists were terrific. Principal was a staffer from the Hollywood film entity Industrial Light & Magic who played a tenor. As if that wasn’t enough, the bass tbn. was a former member of the Barnum & Bailey Circus Band. The piece had some superb trombone trios that we really did well. It was truly a high point in my musical life. And in about 4 rehearsals/2 concerts I made enough to buy a new tuxedo that still fits & I still use.

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