Accompanied by the Aurora Orchestra under Nicholas Collon, tenor Allan Clayton’s Spitalfields Music winter festival performance of Schubert’s cycle was far from orthodox. Instead of the voice and piano original, Winter Journey was heard in a 1993 arrangement by the German composer Hans Zender.
Though there are a few moments when speech replaces song, or when it is disarticulated, the vocal line is left largely intact by Zender; the accompaniment, though, is not so much arranged as recomposed using Schubert’s material.
Zender’s version is scored for a chamber orchestra with some unusual constituents, including guitar, soprano saxophone and accordion. Seven musicians occupy themselves either partly or entirely with a wide range of percussion instruments, including a clutch of wind machines, while four woodwind players double on harmonica.
The result is not so much an arrangement as a creative commentary, refracting Schubert’s archetypal early Romantic gestures in a stylistic transformation that travels from Mahler through to modernism.
Zender also incorporates stage directions, realised here using design and lighting by William Reynolds and involving members of the orchestra, in the composer’s phrase, “sleepwalking” through the church. Occasionally they carried props – including at one point a collection of tiny model houses; at another, four masked woodwind players threatened the increasingly troubled Clayton. Later, he himself left the platform to sing from the gallery.
These staged elements, though, felt like add-ons to the main event. Clayton’s bright, healthy tone and complete vocal and musical security provided strong bases for an interpretation that the young tenor can and surely will develop a good deal further.
Meanwhile, Collon and the Aurora players brought consistent flair to their orchestral contribution. Whether or not we hear much more of Zender’s Schubertian revamp, it serves as a useful reminder that there’s always more than one way to present a masterpiece.