Festival Music

Schubertiade

St Cecilia’s Hall

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Svend McEwan-Brown

three stars

SCHUBERT’S Schubertiades (his friends’ evenings enjoying his music plus food, dinner and dancing) lasted all night and well into the early hours, so at 60 minutes, the EIF’s Schubertiade sounded like it might offer short measure. As it turned out an hour was plenty. It had everything in its favour with four wonderful musicians: Julian Pregardien, singing with great warmth and beauty, guitarist, Xavier Diaz Latorre offering quietly ravishing accompaniments, flautist Georges Barthel adding luminous highlights to the mostly middle-register textures, and the excellent Philippe Pierlot on baryton, familiar from previous appearances at EIF with his Ricercar Consort. No pianist. Deliberate, perhaps, but still odd.

Back in the 1820s, Schubert was chained to the keyboard all night at his parties. Couldn’t get a drink, he complained. Instead, Pierlot did what many musicians since Schubert have done – make arrangements to fit his ad hoc line-up. Nothing wrong with that: Schubert survived being repurposed as Broadway showtunes so he should have done well in these hands. Sadly, the results were patchy. Pierlot had some straight hits – Heidenroslein and Ständchen were exquisite. Most of the other numbers revealed that flute, guitar and baryton simply don’t blend that well. Of the three, only the baryton projects as powerfully as the singer and its strident tone pulls focus, even when it is not saying so much.

The killer problem for this hour, though, was its unvaried medium pace. Harry Haskell’s programme note held a beguiling description of the original Schubertiades as jolly festivities with music at their hearts. This was undoubtedly a project full of love for Schubert, but its pervasively sombre and introspective made it less a celebration than an earnest tribute.