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Voices of our Time - Ian Bostridge
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
Wehmut, D 772 (1822) [2.38] Text by von Collin; Der Zwerg, D771 (1822) [5.13] Text by von Collin; Nacht und träume, D 827 (1822/3) [4.15] Text by von Collin
Der Musensohn, D 764 (1822) [1.51] Text by Goethe; An die Entfernte, D 765 (1822) [2.59] Text by Goethe; Am Flusse, D 911 (1827) [1.40] Text by Müller; Willkommen und Abschied, D 767 (1822) [3.29] Text by Goethe; Wanderers Nachtlied II, D 768 (1822) [2.30] Text by Goethe; An die Leier, D 737 (1922/3) [4.26] Text by Bruchmann; Am See, D 746 (1922/3) [1.47] Text by Bruchmann; Im Haine, D 738 (1922/3) [2.30] Text by Bruchmann;
Erlkönig, D 328 (1815) [4.52] Text by Goethe; Erster Verlust, D 226 (1815) [2.33] Text by Goethe [encore]
Hugo WOLF (1860 -1903)
Der Genesene an die Hoffnung (1888) [4.04] (All texts by Mörike)
Der Knabe und das Immlein (1888) [3.19]
Gebet (1888) [2.51] An den Schlaf (1888) [2.34] Neue Liebe (1888) [2.43] An die Geliebte (1888) [3.43] Begegnung (1888) [1.25] Nimmersatte Liebe (1888) [2.16]
Peregrina I (1888) [1.56] Peregrina II (1888) [3.05] Storchenbotschaft (1888) [4.39] Abschied (1888) [3.14]
Ian Bostridge, tenor; Roger Vignoles, Steinway piano
Recorded at Théâtre Musical de Paris-Châtelet, France, 2000 [day/month not given] Notes in English, Deutsch, Français; track list; no printed texts; technical credits.
Subtitles: English, Deutsch, Castellano, Français, Italiano. On screen extras; interviews with the performers commenting on the music. PAL 16:9 DVD-9 format. PCM Stereo 2.0, AC-3 digital 5.0, or DTS 5.0 sound. Region 0 “All Regions”


Comparison recordings:

Wolf Mörike Lieder, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gerald Moore, EMI CMS 7 63563 2

Schubert Songs, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gerald Moore DG 415 186-2

Schubert, Janet Baker, Raymond Leppard BBC Classical Mag. CD Vol IV #7

Schubert Erlkönig, etc. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Gerald Moore, Geoffrey Parsons. EMI CDM 7 63656-2

Schubert, Winterreise, Hans Hotter, Gerald Moore. EMI GROTC EMI 67000 

Not many singers earn two doctorates in philosophy before going on stage to find stable employment. And not many singers are so slender and agile. To call him the English Fischer-Dieskau at this time is no exaggeration, and no unfairness, since he consciously established the great German lieder singer as his model; but to suggest that this disk is a valedictory comment is absurd. When we watch this concert we are watching the launching of a rocket that will fly into orbits yet undreamed of. We are watching a career of the caliber of Yehudi Menuhin, or Laurence Olivier, or, yes, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and who would presume to have summed up their lives and careers at the age of forty? 

When we consider these three great stylists in the field of the Schubert song — Fischer-Dieskau, Schwarzkopf, and, yes, Bostridge — what we hear first is the style, the singer. We know who’s singing before we recognize the song. That’s perfectly all right, Schubert’s music is strong enough to encompass a very wide range of interpretations. But these are not the only interpretations I want to hear; my favourite Winterreisse is still Hans Hotter from 1956 even though I have both of Fischer-Dieskau’s recordings as well. 

For Bostridge doesn’t just sing these songs, he turns each one into a miniature operatic scene, a mini-music drama. Naturally the Erlkönig is most characteristic of this, and the faces Bostridge makes are almost frightening. You may not want to hear it sung this way all the time, but you won’t want to miss hearing (and seeing!) it sung this way at least once. 

The songs are interspersed with interviews with the performers, and the sound level of the interviews is much higher than the musical tracks. When they come on you must dive for the volume control to keep from being blasted by sound and having shattered the mood established by the song you’ve just heard. If your player offers you this option, you may want to program it to skip the interviews altogether after you’ve seen them once through. Another alternative could be to hit the mute key at the end of the song; since you’re likely to have the subtitles on during the song, you can “listen” to the interview by reading the words on the screen and avoid the blasting sound. 

Speaking is softer than singing, and the relative volume of the tracks should have been so adjusted. Unfortunately this reflects a current journalistic prejudice that the spoken word is the most important thing in the universe and that music of all kinds is “entertainment”, mere diversion, something adults should be ashamed of engaging in, something that should hardly be catered to in any way. The idea that works of art should be surrounded by a compatible mood, that great music should emerge from, and return to, silence, is incomprehensible to these people; to them the purpose of the media, like pop music, is to jolt you, wake you up, keep you revving. Fostering a meditative mood is “putting the audience to sleep” and can only result in lost revenue and a failure of the message to get across.

I’ve done my part by writing this review. If you buy this disk and are as offended as I am by this insensitive audio layout, write your own letter to the producer or post a notice on their website. Let them know we don’t want any more of this. 

If your player does not allow you in some manner to arrange your listening around these blasting interviews, then this disk cannot be recommended despite the excellence of the musical performance. Most stand-alone players will allow you to program the playing sequence but most computer players will not, (and note that “Windows 2000 DVD Player” has no skip forward key) so be sure before you buy. 

When I was listening to a recording of a Schwarzkopf master class in lieder singing she made a comment which I did not understand at the time. She said to one of the singers, “It’s a pity you did not grow up speaking German”. Did she mean to say that German is superior to English? At the time I was offended; I certainly do not consider my being exclusively an Anglophone a disadvantage in any way whatever. But watching this disk I think at last I understand what she meant. I think she did not mean to disparage English or English speakers, but I think she meant to suggest that to foreigners, German diction is difficult because it has to be learned. Watching Ian Bostridge struggle with his “Ü”s and “Ö”s — he gets them all perfect, absolutely perfect, of course — reminds me that native German singers make these sounds without struggling. And in singing they do not hesitate to open their vowels and soften their consonants a little when it will facilitate good tone production. Perhaps Bostridge is afraid of being thought lazy or disrespectful to the German language, so he doesn’t allow himself any slack. If I could presume to offer him some advice, I would suggest that he confer with a native German singer and learn how to cheat a little; then we could all sit back and enjoy the music more. Very few people actually expect to learn the text of a song by hearing it sung, or expect the sung language to be a model of perfect elocution. When watching a video of opera in English, how often do you need to look at the subtitles? 

Paul Shoemaker 



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