Winterreise (album launch)
Peter de Jager
A living room in Williamstown
Chamber Made Opera Records
Saturday 25 May
A supermoon hung in the seaside gloaming as I inexpertly navigated the streets of Williamstown. Getting a little lost is all part of the Chamber Made Opera experience. In the company’s successful Living Room Opera series, the audience is given the address of a household venue somewhere in Melbourne, hoping that the door they knock on hides the host, audience and performers they are looking for and not a family preparing dinner. Chamber Made Opera’s new record label is taking a similar approach, eschewing the trappings of bar or concert-hall launches for an intimate engagement with performers in a suburban living room. Though the autumnal ramble towards last Saturday’s coastal home was far from the lonely winter’s journey depicted in Franz Schubert’s Winterreise song cycle, the experience lent a heightened sense of strangeness and discovery proper to Schubert’s subject.
Gathered around cheese platters with cups of mulled wine, we were not to hear Ida Duelund’s unique interpretation of Schubert for voice and double bass before pianist Peter de Jager treated us to Bach’s Toccata in F# minor, Schubert’s Impromptu in Gb major and Australia-based composer Chris Dench’s E330. Jager’s sensitive articulation of polyphonic voices adds fresh depth and interest to works as well-known as Schubert’s Impromptu. Appropriate for an evening dedicated to the erring soul, all three works performed by Jager pitted a wandering, arpeggiated accompaniment against a searching prinicpal line. Dench’s E330 (from the opera We based on the novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin) strikingly contrasts a Scriabin-like Fantasy with a faux-serial study. In We, the piece is played by a character in a strictly regulated, utilitarian dystopia to demonstrate the difference between Scriabin’s hyper-emotional music and the coolly-formulated music of the One State. Both parts are marvelous constructions on their own, but gain value in their juxtaposition. The icy, crystal-clear vistas and balance between the principal and accompanying voices in the latter half of E330 comes as an epiphany, but only after the Scriabinesque turmoil.
Duelund intoned the first falling notes of Gute Nacht a capella as the night turned black and ship lights passed by outside. Wedged in an opening between two rooms, she performed to one, then to the other audience, accompanying her seraphic voice with bowed and pizzicato double bass. Duelund’s interpretation of Schubert is an intimate rediscovery of counterpoint, at times dissonant, at others of the purest, open intervals. Missing from the launch was Jethro Woodward’s electronic manipulation of the double bass, which accompanied Duelund in the first outing of her Winterreise programme in 2011. Woodward’s subtle atmospheric support is reproduced to great effect on the album itself, available online through Chamber Made Records. What was lost in Woodward’s absence was more than compensated for by some of Duelund’s new compositions, mostly sung in Danish, which show her wandering contrapuntal style extended to new extremes, with an extended vocal range, daring leaps and completely exposed singing against semitones and quartertones in the bass. Like Schubert’s wanderer, Duelund’s voice always returns to some sort of home, though never that from which it sets out, creating a challenging, unnerving, but ultimately rounded experience.
If Ida Duelund does not become a stratospherically famous avant-garde pop star then it will be by no fault of her own. We can blame the market, or the public, or any number of extraneous circumstances, but the counterpoint of Duelund’s seraphic voice and searching double bass confronts, confuses and finally wins one over in a way that is utterly unique today.
RealTime has three copies of Ida Duelund’s Winterreise to give away courtesy of Chamber Made Opera Records. Details here.