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Seen and Heard International Recital Review

 

Franz Schubert: Winterreise, Ian Bostridge (tenor), Leif Ove Andsnes (piano), Carnegie Hall, New York, 16th October, 2004 (BJ)

 

Carnegie Hall has developed a fascinating line in artist residencies over the past few seasons. A chosen performer appears several times in the course of the year, in varying contexts–as soloist with orchestra, in chamber music, in recital, or "curating" a program featuring his or her own selected colleagues. This season one such series is spotlighting the gifted young Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, and among the plans announced for him, a Winterreise with Ian Bostridge has loomed large and promising in my anticipation for the last several months.

 

Such joint appearances by star performers can fall short of expectations, but this time the reverse was true. These two musicians have forged a strong working relationship in the course of both recital collaborations and recordings: their series of Schubert song-and-sonata discs for EMI has produced performances to treasure, and indeed the latest release in that series was of the song-cycle we heard in Carnegie Hall on this occasion.

 

Rarely can there have been a Winterreise in which singer and pianist were so superbly well matched, each as outstanding in his field as the other, and both, as this performance revealed, fearless in their willingness to take every risk in the interests of musical truth and dramatic power. As his recent recordings have shown, Bostridge’s voice has been developing steadily in the direction of ever greater richness and strength, moving away from a tone recalling the fine line of a Fritz Wunderlich to a sound more reminiscent of, say, Richard Tauber. Certainly his vocal resources were more than equal to the challenge of filling Carnegie Hall’s large Isaac Stern Auditorium (as the main hall is now called in memory of the man who saved it from the wrecker’s ball). This was an unusually forceful reading of the cycle, portraying not the somewhat enfeebled, hag-ridden sufferer we sometimes encounter, but a young man still full of passion and protest. Rather in the way Bostridge made Peter Quint, in the Virgin Classics recording of Britten’s Turn of the Screw, all the more frightening a ghost because he sounded so real, so the incipient madness of Wilhelm Müller’s and Schubert’s protagonist was the more convincing because he clearly believed himself to be perfectly sane.

 

It is this kind of profundity in interpretation that Bostridge commands more fully than perhaps any other singer now before the public, and it was reinforced at every step of the wintry way by the sheer power and boldness–wildness even–of Andsnes’s playing, which dared everything and emerged triumphant. Interestingly, by the way, Bostridge made the fairly big crescendo on the concluding word of the last song that used to be traditional; he avoids it in the recording. There is, it is evident, nothing predictable or routine about anything these two great musicians do together. Despite–or because of–being schooled and prepared to the utmost, they are free to respond to the inspiration and the atmosphere of the moment. And an unusually attentive audience rewarded them with the kind of vociferous standing ovation heard more often in countries like the Czech Republic than in the staid United States.

 

Bernard Jacobson



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