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S & H Recital Review

Schubert: Ian Bostridge, Julius Drake, Wigmore Hall, March 2nd, 2002 (ME).


This beautifully planned recital felt like that of a singer staking out new territory; was the ubiquitous Bostridge declaring himself the successor to Fischer- Dieskau? It certainly felt that way, since I'm sure I heard the great man give a virtually identical recital, and to be quite honest, much of the music, especially those songs first performed by Schubert's friend, the baritone Johann Michael Vogl, is far better suited to a singer with more profound low notes than those of Bostridge. Nevertheless, this was an evening which delighted with some genuinely lovely singing and, as always from Drake, accompanying of the highest skill and sensitivity.

The first two songs were, frankly, uncomfortable, with very little sense of the poetry of 'Der Strom' and only the most limited use of legato in 'Auf der Donau;' it seemed to me that the voice entirely lacked the appropriate weight for these songs, and Bostridge's attempt to compensate for this with a return to his previous over-active platform manner did nothing to improve matters. The third song, however, reminded us of this tenor's great qualities which were amply displayed in every phrase; 'Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren' is one of the very greatest of Schubert's songs, and singer and pianist here performed it with the most touching grace, the high points being Drake's wonderful playing of the accompaniment to the lines 'Dieses Ruder, das ich schwinge, / Meerresfluten zu zerteilen ' which so hypnotically evoke the movement of oars through waves, and Bostridge's superbly sustained mezza-voce, so tender and so reverent to the music's natural phrasing. That same lovely tone was heard to perfection in the exquisite, hymn - like second stanza of 'Nachtstück,' where Bostridge floated the lines with such serenity over Drake's movingly played, harp-like accompaniment, although it was unfortunate that the voice was not quite right for the lower notes towards the song's close.

Why do singers programme 'Viola?' I wish I knew, and this performance did not do much to enlighten me. Richard Capell famously said that Schubert was here setting out to '...tell of snowdrops and pansies on the scale of a tale of Troy...' and its preciousness did not suit Bostridge's style, since there were times when he became positively arch. We shall have to endure this song again in May (twice) when Goerne performs it; perhaps he will be the one to convince me of its merits, but I'm not holding my breath for it.

The second half began with an altogether overdone performance of 'Widerschein' during which Bostridge seemed to be coming ever closer to a caricature of himself, but matters improved with 'Alinde,' remarkable for Drake's characterful playing. 'Geheimes' is a delectable little song, requiring delicacy and subtlety of a high order as well as the management of a fine legato line; the legato was there all right, but I found the interpretation far too coy, too precious; surely not every word is in need of such emphasis, and in the exquisite final line 'Ihm die nächste süsse Stunde' I would prefer a slight pressure only on the word 'süsse.'

'Der Winterabend' was given a near - perfect performance by both singer and pianist; this is another song which can sag in the middle, but here one did not find oneself drifting though it and waiting for the sweetly melancholy ending; Bostridge handled the mordents with absolute gracefulness, echoed by Drake's limpid playing. 'Die Sterne' was affected by a little awkwardness in the vorspiel but was sung and played with a real understanding for the shape of those unsurpassably poignant rising and falling lines. I last heard this singer and pianist perform 'Die Götter Griechenlands' as an encore after 'Schwanengesang,' and it was wonderful to hear it now as the concluding song to the recital. They were again perfectly matched, in a performance of tremulous intensity and subtle judgment of the difficult alternations between major and minor. Gerald Moore described this song as being '.saturated by a hopeless, consuming longing for the golden age,' and that sense was conveyed with aching tenderness: the performance was rewarded by an entirely justified silence, and I would have loved the evening to have ended on such an authentic note of bliss, but two encores were given, a not-entirely- successful 'Totengräbers Heimweh' in which the word 'Hände' was substituted for 'Seele' at a crucial line, and a lilting 'Heidenröslein' which sent at least some audience members home humming.

Melanie Eskenazi


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