Friday, March 15, 2019

Jan Martinik's "Winterreise"

I am going to start writing about new CDs on this site, just for fun. I was honored for years to review CDs for The Buffalo News but now that I am on my own, why stop?

German Lieder is something I have loved since I was a teenager and my brother Tony gave me the Seraphim Guide to German Lieder, which was one of the best presents I have ever received in my life and one I would recommend to anyone.

Because I follow the Lieder -- sorry, I could not help that -- I was interested in a new record on the Supraphon label of Schubert's "Die Winterreise" by the Czech bass Jan Martinik.

Martinik is a millennial who won the competition a few years ago for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. Cardiff is in Wales and if you can win a singing competition in Wales you can win one anywhere. Those folks in Wales can wail! Look at Bryn Terfel, Gwyneth Jones or, heck, Tom Jones.

Here is Mr. Martinik singing for the discriminating and musical people of Cardiff.

And here he is in his winning performance, which was Schubert.

Having listened to Martinik's "Winterreise" I can say he has a rich and appealing voice. It is not a deep barrel bass. I would call it smooth and lyrical.

And his approach to "Winterreise" is lyrical. I think it is too much so. Certain lines should just be spat out: "Ihr Kind ist eine reiche Braut!" Your daughter is a rich bride! You have to take that to the wall. Fling it out.

Other lines should be hardly breathed: "sacht, sacht, die Ture zu." Close the door softly. Very sad, that line in the first song, "Gute Nacht."

If Martinik had a contrast control I would tell him to turn it up. The lights have to be lighter and the darks darker. You learn that in art too. You do not want everything to be too delicate. In music like this you need to be restrained but also, at least on occasion, fearless. There are times when "Die Winterreise" careens into real anguish.

Watching that Schubert video up above makes me wonder. Martinik is intense there. He connects with an audience. He brings out the haunting nature of that song.

I wonder if he has to learn to do the same thing on studio recordings. It can be a challenge. You do not have the audience there.

All that having been said, the recording has a lot going for it. The pianist, David Maracek, clearly appreciates Schubert and brings out the subtleties of the accompaniments, which are often spare, almost avant-garde. And Martinik's quiet emotion does carry him a long way. A reflective song like "Der Lindenbaum" has a natural grace and sense of rhythm and tone. Martinik is a pleasure to listen to. The heartiness and the power of his voice break through occasionally like the sun. (OK, like the winter sun.) He gets across a subtle sense of foreboding that gives the music atmosphere.

All he needs is to take things to the next level, and there is no reason he cannot do that.

Thinking back on all the Schubert recordings I reviewed for The Buffalo News I realize I have leveled this kind of criticism many times, that singers are too cautious. I guess it is just how I feel. Plus, maybe I wish I were a singer, I admit it. Also I have listened to a lot of the greats singing these songs, because I am so crazy about this music, and when you do that you get an idea of what can be done with them.

But on the bright side I think that, as I said, this is something that can be learned. And grown into. Martinik was born in 1983 which makes him what, in his mid-30s? He has time. He has the pipes. He has what it takes.

I hope he sings more Schubert!

He could start with "Die Schoene Mullerin."

Just an idea.

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