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SCHUBERT, WOLF: Ian Bostridge (tenor), Anthony Pappano (piano), Wigmore Hall, 16.9.06 (AO)


Ian Bostridge has a great gift for singing sad songs with intensely refined sensitivity. Witness his profound recital of Schubert’s Schulze and Mayrhofer settings (review). That was a courageous and difficult programme which he carried off with such intensity it affected me for a long time afterwards. However, the composer’s Rellstab settings, from Schwanengesang, aren’t depressive or even particularly soul searching. Bostridge found delicious mellismas in In der Ferne, and characterised Kriegers Ahnung well, holding the note on "Schlafe" long and expressively. The problem though, was that he seemed remote and preoccupied. Only with the jaunty Abschied did he lighten up and vary the mood.

But what a transformation occurred when he switched to Wolf ! It was as if a whole new personality had come on stage. Suddenly, Bostridge ignited creatively and produced an outstanding recital, proving that he really has an intuitive affinity for Wolf. Such was his affinity for the composer that we weren’t hearing Bostridge so much as a conduit for the very spirit of Wolf’s music. It was amazing, as if the "real" Bostridge were being revealed and was being sublimated in the service of the music. Suddenly we were hearing the full expressive range of his voice and personality. It had a taransforming effect on the recital.

Quietly and firmly he began Der Genesene an die Hoffnung, Mörike’s hymn to hope. He sang the words "bis der Seig gewonne heiß" with such measured conviction that it felt like the battle had been truly difficult, and that the protagonist had earned his release. Despite the hint of doubt that creeps in on the second verse, it was inspirational, a testament of faith. With a complete change of mood, he launched into Der Knabe und das Immlein, relishing the cheekily erotic wit. All gloom was banished. Bostridge was having fun, shaping his words with carefree abandon. Then, the difficult Begenung, where the story exists on two levels. There was a storm the night before – indoors as well as outdoors. The lovers meet, exchanging glances fraught with double meaning. They are "ungewohhnenten Schelme", "novice rascals" in Richard Stokes’s translation. Bostridge captures the excited sense of first, secret love with a sense of wild exhilaration. It was vivid and animated, matching the turbulent, rolling piano part.


Bostridge can do "erotic" almost as well as he does neurotic. The edge with which he conveyed the sado masochistic Nimmersatte Liebe was both delicious and menacing at the same time – the girl in question a willing accomplice. And then, suddenly back to the lonely world of Verbogenheit, though he didn’t linger long. Songs of open air and open hearted happiness followed. Mörike was a country person who loved nature, even if Wolf was a country boy who chose the city. Im Frühling celebrates the emotional cleansing of Spring. Bostridge’s vowels opened out beautifully on the rhyming words "offen" and "Hoffen" making the link between them even more pronounced than in the poem – a lovely effect.


Pappano is a good accompanist, the kind who intuitively senses what his singer needs, and can bring out the best in him. In the Schubert songs, he was playing with a little too much gusto, but picked up on Bostridge’s mood and moderated his playing to suit. Yet he knew that Abschied needed more life and his avid playing perked the singer up. In the brief gap between the Wolf groups, he joked "I’ve left my music behind !" immediately breaking the tension. They are a good foil for each other, balancing each others personalities.


Bostridge has been singing the Eichendorff settings as long as I can remember, because they are a good tonic to the more depressing Lieder that so dominated the repertoire. He can let go of his inhibitions, focussing on the characters in Eichendorff’s imagination. He started with Der Musikant. Then three of the most beautiful, esoteric Eichendorff songs which bring out Bostridge’s ability to express magic and mystery. His phrasing in Verscheweigene Liebe brought out its inner musical relationships. Yet he found more in the song than just mysticism. That "Gedanken sind frei !" was firm and committed – this is a song of rebellion as a well as of mystery. The rounded, open tone he used for the vowels in the last line "und schön wie die Nacht" hinted at warmth and intimacy . He held the "ö" and the "a" for a long time, creating a sensual effect. Ständchen and Nachtzauber were also movingly beautiful. The recital proper ended with Bostridge’s old favourite, Seemans Abschied, a rousing but bitter two fingers to the world. It’s a wonderful tonic to chase away the crippling inhibitions of society. If there’s more than a hint of unhappiness behind it, that’s all the more reason to break free.


This was Bostridge in magnificent form, asserting himself and his very real, often misunderstood, talent. He was clearly worried, as his nervous spoken introduction to Auf eine altes Bild revealed, but his singing was sublime, capturing both the innocence and the menace. And then he sang a wildly satirical Mörike Abschied where a pompous critic is given his comeuppance. Bostridge has frequently been criticised because he rose to fame without coming through the usual choir school system, and didn’t follow the usual "rules" of patronage. Knocking him is a kind of fashionable blood sport. Yet he is a truly genuine and original talent. His innate sensitivity is both the inspiration behind his best work and the inhibition behind his worst. He needs to remember that in this crazy world being good makes you a target. When he takes Mörike’s forthright independence to heart, and sticks to his convictions, he can produce masterpiece concerts like this. Indeed, so electric was this performance, and so animated, that it was even better than his recent Wolf recording, which is very good indeed. (review) .


Anne Ozorio




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)