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Seen and Heard Recital Review


Hugo Wolf: songs to Mörike, Goethe and Eichendorff, Ian Bostridge (tenor), Antonio Pappano (piano), Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 28th September, 2004 (AO)


Many years ago, I saw a hand mimeographed notice on the corner of Holywell Street in Oxford. It advertised a Schubert concert featuring Ian Bostridge, then a complete unknown. Like a fool, I assumed it was "just another student concert" and didn't go. So I looked forward to hearing Bostridge, now a major star, in the ambiance of the oldest dedicated recital room in the world, The Holywell Music Room. He did not disappoint.


Bostridge's voice is capable of great agility. Not for nothing did Hans Werner Henze, perhaps the greatest living German writer for voice, create his magical Six Songs From the Arabian for him. Bostridge and Pappano seem mirror opposites, but this appears to work to their mutual advantage. Pappano opened Der Genesene an die Hoffnung with dark, reverberant chords, allowing Bostridge to soar seamlessly over them. The song ended with a surprisingly low, smouldering "in deinen Arm", showing how Bostridge's voice has mellowed and deepened in its lower registers. Again, in Der Knaben und das Immlein, Pappano underscored the vocal part with a quirky, witty imitation of the bee, who, after all, is wiser than the innocent young man and more sanguine when it comes to love. Similarly, when Bostridge entered with a luscious "Über Wipfel and Saten" in Verschweigene Liebe, sensually lingering on the long "Ü", Pappano anchored the song with his steady playing.


Bostridge used to be criticised for being too "word oriented" like Fischer-Dieskau, but, years of working with chamber ensembles and piano soloists, as opposed to accompanists, have brought out a more abstract musical approach. He sculptures great arcs, such as in Verborgenheit, and sings details with delicacy barely above a whisper – as in "alte unnennbare Tage" at the end of Im Frühling, where there's a silence between each word. His version of the miniature Gebet was a gem. If anything, Bostridge is in danger of becoming too "un" word oriented, and should follow his instincts, not what critics say. He is far too sensitive and intelligent not to understand the poems and how they work as song. I'd much rather hear him expressing his feelings than worry about things like consonant endings. Thus it is a joy to hear him take pleasure in Wolf's more descriptive songs, such as Seemans Abschied, Gutmann und Guttweib, Der Jäger and Abschied. The latter incidentally tells of a critic who calls on the poet and is unceremoniously bundled down the stairs. Wolf adds a hilarious farce of a popular tune to illustrate the critic’s poor taste. Since Wolf was a strong-minded critic himself, there are levels of irony in this song which Bostridge might relish.


Wolf is not the easiest of composers to sing. Technically he is challenging, but interpretatively, even more so. Even Fischer-Dieskau can be wrong in some of the material. What I would really like to hear is Bostridge doing a collection of Wolf's songs of mystery and wonder – the Mörike Orplid songs, for example, or Der Feuerreiter and Storchenbotschaft. When he sang the latter in London a few years ago, I was stunned by his insight into its meaning. He could also write an excellent essay on Mörike's mind and his creation of an elaborate fantasy world. Both Wolf and Mörike struggled with inner demons and in the poet's case, managed to exorcize them through art. Bostridge has the sensitivity and ability to be a very special Wolf interpreter.


Anne Ozorio






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