A Touch of the Poet
Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
Franz Schubert: Im Frühling, D. 882 - Über Wildemann," D.884 - Der liebliche Stern, D.861 - Tiefes Leid," D. 876 - Auf der Bruck," D. 853 - Heliopolis I, D. 753 - Heliopolis II, D. 754 - Abendbilder, D. 650 - Ins stille Land, D. 403 - Totengräbers Heimweh, D.842 - Auf der Riesenkoppe, D. 611 - Sei mir gegrüsst, D. 741 - Dass sie hier gewesen, D. 775 - Die Forelle, D.550 - Des Fischers Liebesglück, D. 933 - Fischerweise, D. 881 - Atys, D. 585 - Nachtviolen, D. 752 - Geheimnis, D. 491 - Im Walde (Waldesnacht), D.708
Ian Bostridge (Tenor), Julius Drake (Piano)
Ian Bostridge (© Simon Fowler/EMI)
Internationally acclaimed lieder singer, Ian Bostridge, has forged a rather unconventional career path. Although he did sing as a child, he never attended a music school. His strictly academic education took him to both Cambridge and Oxford (where he earned a Ph.D. in history, with a thesis on seventeenth century witchcraft). He never envisioned a career as a performer. After university, Bostridge got a job in television and then decided to pursue graduate studies in history. That is when he resumed singing lessons. He then entered several competitions and got an agent. As Bostridge puts it, he came into his career as a recitalist as an amateur who just related to the music.
Bostridge’s intellectual and analytical orientation is manifest in his singing, which is text-driven. His approach is restrained and refined. He evokes and illuminates the characters and the stories with crystal clear enunciation, beautifully shaped phrasing, extraordinarily nuanced dynamics, and a lovely pure tone with ringing top notes. There is a pervasive gentleness, even tenderness, in his singing and in his manner. There is also something of the romantic poet.
The program featured Schubert’s settings of poems penned by several different poets. The first selection was the very beautiful Im Frühling which juxtaposes the luxuriant blossoms of spring with the vagaries of love. Bostridge gave Heliopolis I, with a text by Mayrhofer, a spectral quality, with gentle pianissimos evoking the atmosphere of the uncanny. The end, describing the peace found in the light, was exquisite – lyrical, beautifully colored, and lovingly shaped.
The dramatic highlight of the evening was Totengräbers Heimweh (The Gravedigger’s Homesickness). The digging of his shovel can be heard in the piano part. Heaven and those loved ones who have gone before beckon the gravedigger. He longs to sink into the grave. In the last three lines, he releases his grip on life. Fischer-Dieskau has said that the mood of songs like this one is not fear of death but a kind of trustful optimism. Bostridge’s performance was unforgettable.
The program also included two of my favorite songs, Die Forelle and Sei mir gegrüsst (I Greet You). Die Forelle was fun and funny, in its mock tragic way. Bostridge’s performance of Sei mir gegrüsst was simply exquisite, with its soft, almost echo-like repeat: “I greet you, I kiss you.”
Julius Drake has been Bostridge’s musical collaborator for many years. The two artists clearly have a deep understanding of the music and of each other. In several of the songs, the piano was of equal importance to the vocal line. In all of them, Drake played with skill and sensitivity. The audience gave both artists a prolonged ovation, and was rewarded with three encores, including Heidenröslein.
EMI has released several CD’s featuring Bostridge and Drake performing Schubert songs, and a marvelous Winterreise with Bostridge accompanied by Leif Ove Andsnes.
Arlene Judith Klotzko