gerald finley

Editor’s note: In the past couple weeks, Portland experienced a rare confluence of Winter Journeys — no, not the snow- and ice-strewn commutes of this year’s Snowpocalypse, but two performances by renowned musicians of the same classic work: Franz Schubert’s 1828 song cycle. ArtsWatch’s Katie Taylor and Jana Hanchett accompanied one journey each; here are their travel diaries.

Randall Scarlata and Gilbert Kalish performed at Chamber Music Northwest's Winter Festival. Photo: Jonathan Lange.

Randall Scarlata and Gilbert Kalish performed at Chamber Music Northwest’s Winter Festival. Photo: Jonathan Lange.

 Scarlata and Kalish: Missing marrow

“Now I hope you all come back after the first half,” Chamber Music Northwest violinist Ida Kavafian told the audience just before baritone Randall Scarlata and pianist Gilbert Kalish performed Schubert’s song cycle Winter Journey (Winterreise) on January 25. “Don’t do anything terrible to yourself during intermission; life is not over.”

An awkward pause with a few nervous titters followed, but Kavafian got it right: listeners and performers alike should expect to leave a performance of this song cycle emotionally wrung out. Unfortunately, it never happened for me.

Schubert’s musical setting of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller depicts the psychological breakdown of a rejected lover. Within the song cycle, the lover, facing imminent rejection by his beloved, secretly leaves her house in the dead of winter to stumble through snow-covered paths, sobbing over past memories and shouting out delusional visions. The cycle ends with the image of a homeless organ grinder standing barefoot on an icy street, listlessly turning his instrument’s handle while a dog growls, ready to attack.

While listening to Scarlata and Kalish’s performance, instead of feeling tempted to swallow a bullet, I ended up experiencing a major insecurity complex: Was it the performers? Was it me? My lack of emotional connection to the performance worried me and sent me on a hunt for reasons.

Continues…