Nebensonnen is an extraordinary auditory experience, a radical re-working of Schubert’s Winterreise in modern jazz idiom. It begins innocently enough - the outline of the first song, Gute Nacht, is perfectly recognisable - but with the introduction to the second, Die Wetterfahne, rhythm, melody and harmony undergo a crazy distortion, against which only Schubert’s melodic line remains at all consistent. From this point on, any obvious resemblance to Schubert’s piano parts is abandoned, with one or two notable exceptions –
a ghostly bass echo of the triplet figuration in Der Lindenbaum, a flugelhorn version of the posthorn in Die Post, and (muted trumpet, most movingly) the haunting, intense melody of Der Leiermann, with which the cycle ends. Meanwhile, Manfred Mitterbauer’s honest, expressive bass-baritone eloquently embodies the soul of Schubert’s (and Müller’s) original cycle, set against Ensemble Zeit Sequenzen’s increasingly fragmented, hallucinatory landscape of electric guitar and bass, tuned percussion and trumpet.
Purists may lament the absence of Schubert’s piano parts. By way of compensation, composer Manfred Paul Weinberger emphasises the expressionistic aspects of Wilhelm Müller’s verse, and its bizarre humour, at times distorting the voice part to the point of Sprechgesang, or (in Im Dorfe, for instance) reducing the background to an eerie succession of scratches, rustles, rattles and squeaks. Weinberger’s trumpet is used sparingly but effectively, either as soulful counterpoint to the icy combination of marimba and guitar, or to add bite to moments of rhythmic drama. Add in the unearthly electronic effects, and rarely has the winter landscape sounded so bleak and cold.
Hallucinatory, expressionistic, tantalising – and moving, too, especially in the penultimate song, from which this version takes its title. With its funereal guitar and elegiac trumpet, and Mitterbauer poignantly lamenting the dying of the light, Die Nebensonnen brings the emotional circle to a close. In the tradition of such modern reworkings as Picasso’s variations on Velasquez’ Las Meninas, Nebensonnen deserves to be listened to on its own terms, as both
a homage to, and an extension of Schubert’s original. Roger Vignoles