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François Loup's Winterreise

Caspar David Friedrich, Winter Landscape (1811), Staatliches Museum, Schwerin (with thanks to Web Gallery of Art)
Franz Schubert's grim song cycle Winterreise, setting twenty-four poems by Wilhelm Müller, is a perpetual favorite here at Ionarts. So we leapt at the chance to hear a favorite singer in the region, bass-baritone François Loup, sing the cycle on Friday night at the Clarice Smith Center. Adding interest was the pairing of each song with a projected image drawn from the work of German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. From a meteorological point of view, the St. Luke's summer -- the warming spell often observed around the feast day of St. Luke -- was not the ideal setting (although the drenching rain timed for the end of the concert was). Loup entered the sold-out Gildenhorn Recital Hall wearing a dark overcoat and scarf, ready for the snowy trip, in the darkness setting a dramatic tone. Fortunately, being bound to his score on a music stand kept him from trying to act too much, allowing our visual imagination to rest on the Friedrich images.

Loup's high notes sounded slightly strained and thin at rare moments, but his round, resonant lower range added an admirable solidity to this performance, as in the excited exclamations ("Mein Herz!") in Die Post (after which Loup chose to break for intermission). That large sound was mostly able to bear the full-throated piano, played by Santiago Rodriguez (like Loup, on the University of Maryland music faculty), not without technical chinks but for the most part pleasingly sensitive. Loup's German was not without a few idiosyncratic vowels, but this was by and large an expansive, clear-toned, thoughtful Winterreise. At only one point, in the eighth song ("Rückblick"), did Loup and the pianist get off by a beat from one another, a rare confusion that was not immediately corrected.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, Francois Loup's 'Winterreise,' Exquisitely Chilled (Washington Post, October 23)
The second half began with Der greise Kopf, which was a humorous moment for the white-haired Loup. When we came to the grim Das Wirtshaus, Friedrich's Coffin on a Grave (1836) brought home the theme of the journey toward death. Not all of the paintings selected were as literal in how they matched the poems, which was the right choice, and the image changed only between songs, which minimized the possible distraction. Toward the end of the final song, Loup walked slowly to the far side of the projection screen, to the accompaniment of the Leiermann's hurdy-gurdy in the piano. When he turned back, an image of the young Schubert appeared. Fade to black.

This concert repeats today, at 3 pm, in the Clarice Smith Center. Ionarts will be back in College Park this Friday, for a concert by the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra. Besides the Sibelius 7th symphony, the program features Yevgeny Yevtushenko reading his poetry, introducing Shostakovich's 13th symphony.

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