Hearing Schubert’s Wintry Song Cycle in San Diego Spring

It is difficult to imagine a season when Franz Schubert’s blustery song cycle Die Winterreise (Winter’s Journey) would resonate with San Diego’s usual balmy climate. Yet Sunday’s chilly, May gray afternoon came closest to providing the appropriate conditions in which to consider Schubert’s and poet Wilhelm Müller’s morbid musings over a lonely midwinter trek.

In the downtown San Diego Public Library’s Neil Morgan Auditorium, operatic baritone Michael Sokol gave a vibrant vocal account of the composer’s melodic musings while plumbing the poet’s dark emotional excursions with telling acuity. His collaborator at the piano Nicolas Reveles deftly sketched the location and mood of each song, gracefully complementing Sokol’s beautifully detailed interpretation of the cycle’s 24 songs.

Schubert’s miraculous score characterizes both the physical and emotional topography of the protagonist’s journey with such vivid concision that a strong case could be made that no subsequent composer has produced a cycle of equal scope and pictorial verisimilitude. Sokol communicated each song’s emotional state, from the dramatic urgency of “The Weathervane” to the forlorn introspection of “Flood Water” and the stark resignation of “Rest.”

Sokol’s hearty baritone sports a bright tenorial ping in his strong upper range, although his vocal color struck me as one size fits all. He achieved variety through carefully chosen dynamic contrasts: his floating, sotto voce lines in “The Crow,” for example, beautifully underscored the song’s mixture of irony and angst, and his stark declamation in “Spring’s Dream” aptly captured tragic isolation. In the final song, “The Organ-Grinder,” the baritone’s opaque decrescendos clearly depicted his existential meltdown.

Equally sensitive and supporting, Reveles displayed the imaginative invention of the accompaniment, such as the busy figuration of fourth song of the cycle, “Numbness,” without ever overshadowing the vocalist.

At a time when support for the traditional vocal recital is fading, Sokol and Reveles reminded us how rewarding this musical convention can be in the hands and voice of accomplished musicians.

This recital was presented by the San Diego Public Library, 330 Park Blvd., on May 20, 2018, in the Library’s Neil Morgan Auditorium. The next program on this Community Concerts series will be the Hausmann Quartet on May 27, 2018.


  1. Eric Mooney on May 30, 2018 at 10:52 am

    Three excellently written reviews. I enjoy special touches such as the transposition of the noun and adjective to be “May gray” in the review of the Schubert piece. I wonder how much time it takes Mr. Herman to attend all of the concerts and write the carefully-crafted reviews. It must be equal to working a full-time job.

  2. Paul Engel on May 30, 2018 at 11:29 am

    am dying to hear this some day – the whole cycle! Sorry I had to miss this time!

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