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Seen and Heard Recital Review

Schubert Die schöne Müllerin, D795. Ian Bostridge (tenor); Mitsuko Uchida (piano), Wigmore Hall, 24th February, 2005 (CC)

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 her surroundings.

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 of meaning.

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 of Mark 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.

Colin Clarke


Further Listening:

Bostridge; Uchida. EMI 5 57827 2



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