Wigmore Hall BBC Radio 3 Special Broadcasts
Small-scale works take on new and surprising qualities when listened to with this level of concentration, as if the emotions are suddenly being presented in pop-up form. Schumann fared particularly well; not just in Hough’s defiant opening concert, but in a group of dryly named Canonic Études performed by the oboist Nicholas Daniel and the pianist Julius Drake on Thursday. Winsome melodies acquired a stinging payload of melancholy; rippling piano figuration slipped downwards through Drake’s fingers, and away into nothingness.
Julius Drake/Alice Coote — Schubert’s song cycle made dark, savage and urgent
Between the poles of bitterness and tenderness, a traveller looks back on lost love, unable to bear remembered happiness. Listening to Franz Schubert’s song cycle, Winterreise, is never a comfortable experience. The narrator is unreliable, volatile, vengeful, yearning for oblivion yet unable to stop thinking, seeing and feeling. The melodies press their point in repeated notes, or loop and fall like the marks of a pen in a broken hand, curling and recoiling. The piano part, as ambitious in its detail and expressivity as the composer’s late sonatas, now describes ice, snow, wind and water, now the tread of frozen feet, now the void of despair
The mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and the pianist Julius Drake have performed Winterreise at Wigmore Hall before. In 2012 they recorded it across two concerts. Seven years on, their interpretation has grown darker, more savage and more urgent. Each song has become an epic, crafted and coloured with symphonic imagination. Winterreise has long ceased to be a Romantic fantasy. Look upwards in Marylebone and all is tinsel, baubles and light. Look down and there are wanderers huddled in doorways.
From a core sound of molten copper Coote twists her tone into an ashen whisper, a blazing torch, a guttural snarl, a silken sob or velvet moan. It’s extreme and vivid and disturbing. With Drake, she has developed a scheme that groups some songs into sequences and holds others apart as paraphrases, with liberal use of rubato. In the sequence of Einsamkeit, Die Post, Der greise Kopf and Die Krähe and, later, Das Wirtshaus, Mut!, Die Nebensonnen and Der Leiermann, Mahler’s songs of more than 50 years later seem inevitable. It would be foolish to claim that this was a definitive performance, or even Coote’s and Drake’s definitive performance, but it was bold enough to make one wonder what they will do with this music in the next seven years.
“With Julius Drake contributing exquisite accompaniments, one felt that De Niese truly inhabited the world and emotions of the lovesick herding girl.”
“Julius Drake is responsible for much with pianism that is subtle and perfectly matched to [Gerald] Finley’s conception, and the sound is warm and as dark as the music.”
“the pianist Julius Drake, a collaborator gifted with sensitive phrasing and insight”
“This fifth volume of Julius Drake’s superb series of Liszt songs on Hyperion sees the young British tenor Allan Clayton bringing the same compelling mixture of ardour and vulnerability that made his Glyndebourne Hamlet such a sensation to a selection of German and French songs: the latter, in particular, suggest that the voice is on the cusp of a transition into more dramatic territory, which had me crossing my fingers that he’ll be playing a key role in next year’s Berlioz anniversary celebrations and eagerly awaiting his imminent assumption of Britten’s Peter Grimes. Spotlit by a pleasingly dry acoustic which allows every thoughtful detail to register, Drake is characteristically eloquent and imaginative throughout – listen, for instance, to the two completely different moods which he invokes with a simple repeated phrase in the space of just two bars in the opening of ‘Morgens steh’ ich auf und frage’.”
“Mr. Drake delivered an outstanding performance at the piano. Through the near constant manipulation of the pedals, he created a vast palette of colors that ranged from the blustery introduction to “The Weather Vane” to glassy droplets in “Frozen Tears” and Mozartean grace in “Dream of Spring.” He was also the driving force behind the performance’s excellent pacing, contrasting rushing passages with moments of rest that often took on an uncomfortable staring quality.”
“Julius Drake handles the piano writing wonderfully by turns tender and poignant, urgent and explosive as Janáček takes us from the first flash of young love to self-hatred, doubt and tortured destiny”
On Leos Janáček’s “Diary of One Who Disappeared”
“In a group by Hugo Wolf, imagination and execution began to gel, greatly inspired by the rapport with her unfailingly eloquent and supportive pianist Julius Drake. “Um Mittternacht” was beautifully restrained and “Verborgenheit” nobly shaped, while “Nimmersatte Liebe” nailed the poet’s wordly-wise shrug with wry gentle wit.”
“However, the finest musician on stage was neither of these. It was pianist Julius Drake. The way he created a lofty, epic mood in the song Talismans, then held back to allow Bostridge to soar over the top — with no loss of grandeur — was the most eloquent moment of the evening.”
“Here they were most eloquently interpreted by Coote and her unfailingly sensitive yet never unduly recessive piano partner Julius Drake. Whether thrillingly extravert in “Wanderlied”, ecstatically impassioned in “Stille Tränen’ or warmly melancholy in “Alte Laute”, they held the audience rapt: the silence in the hall as the last note faded was something magical and even holy”
“But especially in the first half, during the Schubert section of the programme, one caught one’s attention migrating again and again from the soloist to the accompanist. Julius Drake had a fantastic evening; with virtuosic ease, he blended the background colours around the main exhibit of an evening of song: the singing voice.
He clad Gerald Finley’s strong vocal body in a sometimes airy, sometimes warm, encasement of sound. The Briton was… both storm and breath, frost and glowing embers. This was an exceptional performance that defined art as the daughter of craftsmanship and genius.”
“This is the second installment of Hyperion’s retrospective of Liszt’s complete songs, the brainchild of pianist Julius Drake, and one of the most important recording projects of recent years. […] With mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager, Drake now steers us into territory that is altogether more reflective, while some of Liszt’s most familiar songs, such as Es Muss ein Wunderbares Sein, are included in the programme. […] Drake is outstanding throughout.”
“In Julius Drake they were joined by a character actor at the piano, who slipped into the many roles assigned to him with great dexterity and dramatic instinct.”
“Constantly sympathetic, Julius Drake sustained drama, cumulative logic and easy virtuosity at the keyboard. He also made delirious sense of the impossible patter-clatter of “Klinge, klinge, mein Pandero”
“Julius Drake proved an adept and equal collaborator, evoking stormy weather, glinting fishes and chirruping crickets with the same dramatic immediacy that Finley brought to bear.”
“Julius Drake is admirable. When I mentally prepared these notes, I thought that it is one of those pianists who can attract as much or more than the singer they perform with. I explain. If a concert with an interpreter is announced that I do not know but also plays Drake that guarantees me the quality of the show, which will be a program worked and studied and that the British piano will always be like a network for the singer-trapeze artist who can sing knowing that, whatever happens, there will always be Drake to save him. It would be repetitive to explain the qualities of his work, here in full connection with Bostridge, with which it is perfectly seen that he has worked hand in hand, especially in the most risky sections of the program, as were the Des Knaben Wunderhorn lieder. Serene in the gesture, precise in the pulsation, elegant in the legato, it is always a pleasure to hear it.”
“This excellently recorded performance is strikingly direct.”
“Julius Drake’s accompaniment is always alive to the operatic nuance of the work.”
On The Diary of One who Disappeared
“Over the next few years Janáček produced arrangements of fifty-three songs, eventually published as Moravian folk poetry in songs [Moravská lidová poezie v písních] (1890). The 12 songs on this disc sung spellbindingly by Spence and Housková, accompanied by the formidable Drake, are among my favorite tracks on this CD.”
“Drake has had a long involvement with this piece; he assisted the late Irish poet Seamus Heaney with his translation, which was commissioned for the English National Opera in 1999. Drake’s playing throughout the CD is extremely impressive.”