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At Kennedy Center, baritone Russell Braun performs Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’

By Cecelia Porter,

At the conclusion of Schubert’s well-known song cycle “Winterreise” (Winter Journey), Canadian baritone Russell Braun and piano accompanist, wife Carolyn Maule, for a moment stunned their audience into total silence, delaying applause. On Wednesday at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, their artistry added another plus to the Vocal Arts D.C. series.

One might wonder why this cycle always draws capacity audiences. It is a morbid tale of hopelessly unrequited love leading to the grave — an endless journey through a dark, frozen winter landscape.

The answer is in Schubert’s uncanny genius in transforming the kinetic imagery of Lisel Mueller’s rather mediocre poem into transcendent music. Braun and Maule further intensified Schubert’s introspective settings into a statement of operatic magnitude.

Braun’s array of dynamic shadings matched the many kinetic implications in the poem. Besides the ceaseless wanderer image, the poet constantly refers to straying, hurrying or searching. Braun often adjusted vocal timbres and tempos dramatically from word to word. All the feelings were further expanded by the singer’s gestures ranging from small introspective movements to arms outstretched and head lowered in desperation. That is, Braun actually became the forlorn wanderer in a drama needing no sets or props.

Porter is a freelance writer.

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