An accomplished tenor to delve into dark musicIf you ask him, the tenor Peter Schreier prefers Bach. His favorite role is the part of the Evangelist in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, the character who holds the work together, narrating the final days of Christ. Indeed, his interpretations of Bach’s vocal music launched his career; they count among his most revered recordings.
But Mr. Schreier is in town this weekend on a quieter, more reflective mission: to perform Schubert’s complete “Winterreise” song cycle, with text from Wilhelm Muller’s introspective poetry.
Peter Schreier was born in Meissen, Germany, in 1935. His first musical training came from his father, a church cantor. As a boy chorister, Schreier was often chosen to carry solo roles. When his voice matured, he began to study the lyric tenor repertoire, making his professional debut in 1959 in Beethoven’s Fidelio.
In 1970, Schreier challenged himself to stand on the other side of the stage, as conductor. Since then, he has emerged as a leading conductor, with particular interest in the works of Bach and Mozart. In June 2000, Schreier left the opera stage, saying he could no longer act as though he were still a young prince.
But his record stands: dozens of incomparable performances, most captured on the Deutsche Grammophon label.
Since the start of his career, Schreier has also won acclaim as a performer of the German lieder ― of which Schubert’s song cycles are a part ― lauded for his expressive projection and shaping of the words.
The Schubert song cycle Mr. Schreier will perform tonight was one of the composer’s last, and is overwhelmingly considered his greatest.
The texts describe a disappointed lover who is wandering about in a snowstorm, the swirling natural elements mirroring the pain in the speaker’s heart. Some listeners find the “Winterreise” irrepressibly dark. But the songs’ musical merit is inarguable, demonstrating the greatest possible combination of mid-Romantic-era lyric melodies and expressive harmonies to perfectly bring across the meaning of the text.
One of the last songs in the 24-song cycle, titled “Irrlicht,” or “will-o’-the-wisp,” ends with this verse: Down the mountain stream’s dry course/I will calmly wend my way/Every stream finds the sea/Every sorrow finds its grave.
Dark, no doubt, but also with the sense of uncanny calm only the greatest music can provide, felt as the final chord rings out and fades.
by Kim Hae-young
Peter Schreier will perform tonight at the Seoul Arts Center, southern Seoul, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from 30,000 won ($26) to 90,000 won. Call 02-780-6400 or visit www. ticketlink.co.kr.