Music review: Hans Zender’s Winterreise

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Hans Zender’s Winterreise is a strange piece. Intended as a “composed interpretation” of Schubert’s great song cycle Die Winterreise, rather gloomy but beautiful settings of poems by Wilhelm Müller, Zender’s aim is to re-ignite the initial response of shock on first hearing of the original version.

Star rating: ***

Venue: Greyfriars Kirk

That there is a sense of someone who has lost his place in life and love and is now journeying through a landscape of snow, ice, wind and storm is undeniable. But the way he gets there, even with the magnificent tenor voice of Christian Elsner in Müller’s texts and committed playing by Hebrides Ensemble, is puzzling. Instrumentation is bizarre, the times it is effective in supporting the emotion of the words counter-balanced by the times it is indulgent. Wind players walked on and off stage, on several occasions accompanied by audience members walking out.

Random use of a microphone for the singer was unfathomable, especially as not even when it might have been useful in Elsner being heard through the sound of the 24-piece orchestra. Rainsheets and wind machines helped evoke the weather but a fragmented unevenness of instrumental texture made for hard work with the score.