Seen and Heard Recital
Schubert Die schöne
Müllerin, D795. Ian Bostridge
(tenor); Mitsuko Uchida (piano), Wigmore Hall, 24th February, 2005
Part of a tour to promote the release of their EMI recording (5
57827 2), the match of Bostridge and Uchida on the surface seems
something of a risk. Bostridge’s EMI disc of Schubert Lieder
with Drake (CDC5 56347-2) was in hindsight a defining point of
his career; of course, Uchida’s qualifications as one of
the leading living Schubertians hardly needs to be restated here.
The possibilities for this combination are endless – would
one spark off the other? Uchida’s profundity of thought
in this repertoire is on a level of its own; nothing I have heard
Bostridge in, Schubert or otherwise, has moved me to such heights.
Of course there is the problem that Bostridge is instantly recognisable
in whatever he sings. His voice is an expressive instrument, certainly,
but whether he sings Britten, Schubert or early music, it strikes
me he brings little differentiation to the way he approaches the
various periods. Uchida’s ultra-responsiveness, of course,
is on the other end of the scale … as was to become evident.
There were many points during this Müllerin at which
I found myself honing in on Uchida’s contribution, almost
blocking out Bostridge. She was clearly completely immersed in
the experience (frequently mouthing the words as Bostridge sang).
And yet, Uchida was not at her very best, merely much better than
This is clearly a wanderering boy who wanders at fast-forward,
such was the tempo for ‘Das Wandern.’ Uchida eschewed
the more obvious weighting of touch in the third and fourth verses
(which focus on the mill-wheels and the mill-stones, respectively)
to concentrate on the ongoing pace. The scene was set. Uchida’s
gorgeously light accompaniment to ‘Wohin?’ and her
infinite shades of colour to project the mysteries of the text
were balm to the ear; the bare textures of ‘Der Neugierige’
absolutely hypnotic (the postlude in the latter as perfect as
one can get in this strange thing called musical performance).
Her presentation of the suspensions in ‘Tränenregen’
was heart-rending, contrasting with the explosion of sound that
was the opening of ‘Mein!’. And the simple repeated
note of ‘Die liebe Farbe’ took on infinite shades
Against this was Bostridge’s, in comparison, rather self-conscious
phrasing and gestures. Maybe part of the problem is that he sounds
English no matter what language he is singing in, and he certainly
cannot muster the ardent expression required by such lines as
‘Dein ist mein Herz und soll es ewig bleiben!’ (the
concluding line of ‘Ungeduld’).
All was not as bleak maybe as I suggest. There was a gorgeous
duet between Bostridge and the piano’s treble in ‘Morgengruss’
and I do like Bostridge’s interpretative take on the song
‘Mein!’ in which he seems to suggest the protagonist
is delusional at this point, to the extent of looking defiantly
at the audience at the very end of the song, as if to ask them
that it is not so, that the Müllerin is not ‘his.’
On a more mundane level, his slurs in this song were not the equal
Padmore's recent ‘take’ on Müllerin
in this very hall, though.
Perhaps the most successful Lied was the penultimate one, ‘Der
Müller und der Bach,’ a true portrait of desolation
stripped bare (the miller) pitted against real music of consolation
(the brook). Uchida wove her magic in the concluding ‘Des
Baches Wiegenlied.’ A pity Bostridge did not quite rise
to the occasion (Padmore found more beauty, for example, in the
wonderfully expressive sung sounds of the line ‘In dem blauen
kristallenen Kämmerlein’). Bostridge found little sense
of arrival at the crucial lines, ‘Wandrer, du Müder,
du bist zu Haus’ (‘Weary wanderer, you are at home’).
It was perhaps significant that it was Uchida who decided when
to break the audience’s silence in the wake of the concluding
bars. She had been the leading voice throughout, in a sense. It
might be a contentious thing to say, but there was the distinct
impression that Uchida was being pulled down by this collaboration.
Compare the recording with, for example, her Philips D960 (especially
the slow movement), and you’ll hear what I mean.
Bostridge; Uchida. EMI 5 57827 2