Schubert's song cycle "Die Winterreise" ("The Winter Journey") received a heartbreaking performance Sunday at the Phillips Collection. It is one of the world's most desolate pieces of music -- a series of 24 soliloquies by a man, disappointed in love, who feels he has to go away. He marches through desolate landscapes, along "a road from which no one returns," numb equally with cold and grief, replaying old memories in his mind.
The last song, "Der Leiermann" ("The Hurdy-Gurdy Man"), crystallizes the cycle's themes in the image of an old organ grinder standing in the snow, harassed by dogs, with no coins in the plate he has put out for donations. The old, desolate musician might symbolize Schubert himself, who when he wrote it was dying in poverty, neglected by the world.
All the shattering emotions of the cycle came across with clarity and high impact in a performance by bass-baritone Thomas Beveridge and pianist Edward Newman, an equal partner in a collaboration as intense as the words and music. Beveridge, who is best known today as a composer and the founder-director of the National Men's Chorus and the New Dominion Chorale, has had a long career as a solo singer, including performances at the Phillips Collection that date back to 1963.
In the four decades since then, his voice has lost some of its youthful freshness. On Sunday, there were some signs of strain in the high notes, but the lower register was firm and rich, the phrasing was intelligent and expressive, the diction clear, the overall form and progression of the cycle precisely defined.
Newman, one of Washington's finest pianists, caught every expressive and descriptive nuance of the music with fluency and power.
-- Joseph McLellan