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Musical Masterworks: Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’ song cycle wows crowd in Old Lyme


Published December 01. 2018 8:39PM | Updated December 02. 2018 9:11PM

By Lee Howard, Day staff writer

Old Lyme — Baritone Randall Scarlatta wowed a Musical Masterworks crowd Saturday at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme with his precise and emphatic rendition of Franz Schubert’s song cycle “Winterreise,” penned during the second to last year of the composer’s life.

Scarlatta, accompanied brilliantly by pianist Jeewon Park, brought both a sweetness and darkness to the moody Schubert melodies. His baritone could rumble at its lowest range and float like a cloud in the occasional falsetto moments.

Scarlatta had to call upon all his considerable vocal talents to convey the tragic story of “Winterreise,” which is translated as A Winter’s Journey. In the song cycle, a musical rendition of a section from Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Muller’s romantic poetry, a young man leaves town after breaking up with his beloved and becomes a wanderer (and at times wallower) in epic despair.

The cycle contains a total of 24 songs that vary in tempo and tone. The opening romantic march of the “Gute Nacht” section sets the scene with a sense of foreboding as the young man passes his lover’s house, Scarlatta finishing with an artful catch in his voice as he sang the haunting words “As I pass by, I write upon your gate: Good night, so that you may see that I thought of you.”

Throughout the cycle, Scarlatta could be counted on for clear enunciation and an ability to allow the tunes to shine through despite the difficult guttural diction required of the German text.

Highlights of the hour-and-a-half performance included “Der Lindenbaum,” perhaps the most beautiful melody in the cycle, and one that called for a wide range of tempos and emotions, featuring a lovely flowing ending by Scarlatta’s accompanist Park.

“Fruhlingstraum,” a dreamy section that has the protagonist thinking of better times only to be awakened to reality, also was devastatingly beautiful, with its alternating moods and haunting last line, “When will I hold my beloved in my arms?”

The masterwork concluded with several more gorgeous songs, including the scary “Der Wegweiser,” translated as The Sign Post, whose final line speaks of traveling a road from which no one has ever returned. You could hear a pin drop as the final note faded from “Der Leiermann,” translated as The Hurdy-Gurdy Man, a representative of the inevitability of death. The crowd of about 200 soon was up on its feet, however, recognizing a truly spectacular performance that brought an artist of rare talent to a little performance space in Old Lyme.

As Masterworks artistic director Edward Arron said before the concert, it was “devastating and transporting in the most artful way.”