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CD: Crotchet


Franz SCHUBERT (1897 – 1828)
The WandererLieder and Fragments
1. Viola, D786 [13:06]
2. Pilgerweise, D789 [5:41]
3. An die Musik, D547 [2:28]
4. Der liebliche Stern, D861 [2:42]
5. Tiefes Leid, D876 [3:45]
6. Auf der Bruck, D853 [3:11]
7. Der Wanderer, D649 [2:50]
8. Fülle der Liebe, D854 [5:15]
9. Wiedersehn, D855 [2:21]
10. Vom Mitleiden Mariä, D632 [3:25]
11. Im Walde, D780 [6:06]
12. Der Schmetterling, D633 [1:21]
Gesänge des Harfners, D478:
13. Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt [3:51]
14. Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß [4:03]
15. An die Türen will ich schleichen [1:52]
16. Die Sterne, D939 [2:51]
17. Der Winterabend, D938 [7:20]
18. Der Unglückliche,  D713 [5:56]
19. Totengräbers Heimweh, D842 [5:59]
20. Auf dem Strom, D843* [7:59]
21. Ständchen (Horch, horch, die Lerch), D889 [3:41]
22. Lachen und Weinen, D777 [1:44]
23. An die Laute, D905 [1:27]
24. Der Tod und das Mädchen, D531 [2:23]
25. Pflicht und Liebe, D467 [1:16]
26. Allegretto D900 in C minor [1:55]
27. Lebensmut, D937 [0:53]
28. Allegretto D346 in C [4:28]
29. Johanna Sebus, D728 [2:19]
30. Andantino D348 in C [2:42]
31. Abschied von der Erde (Melodrama) D829 [2:39]
Ian Bostridge (tenor) (all except 26, 28 & 30)
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano), Timothy Brown (horn)*
rec. Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, August 2001 (2,16,18,20); October 2002 (4-12); Potton Hall, Suffolk, September 2004 (1,17,31). Henry Wood Hall, London, October 2006 (3,13-15,19,21-30)
Sung texts and English translations enclosed
EMI CLASSICS 5164432 [62:57 + 56:26]
Experience Classicsonline

These are not new recordings, as can be seen in the header. They were all issued between 2002 and 2008, but only as part of Leif Ove Andsnes’s highly acclaimed series with Schubert sonatas and other piano pieces, where songs were so to speak sprinkled in for good measure. I think it was a good decision by EMI to collect and issue them separately, since I believe – however inexplicable it may seem – that there may be a lot of listeners who love Schubert’s songs but are not interested in the sonatas. Anyway it is convenient to have them available in one set.
Ian Bostridge’s qualities as a Lieder singer have, to some extent, divided opinions, even though the majority of critics have been positive. He first came to notice through his recording of Die schöne Müllerin in Hyperion’s complete Schubert Edition and was hailed for his sensitivity and his intelligent approach. His light silvery voice has also been admired for its flexibility. Some pundits, on the other hand, have swooped down on exactly the same things: his voice lacking weight and his readings being sometimes over-emphatic.
Less than a year ago I reviewed a reissue of a Schubert disc with pianist Julius Drake (EMI 5034242), recorded in 2000 and then I wrote among other things ‘This is not a recital with big gestures and thunderous fortissimos. On the contrary it is soft and restrained but with intensity within a limited dynamic scope. It is more a matter of letting the music speak without unnecessary pointing of words.’ The same could be applied to the present set, but with some qualifications. In my notes I wrote: ‘Ian Bostridge’s art is intimate, held within dynamically narrow frames but with a myriad nuances, colourings and excellent enunciation. He never superimposes heavy accents, he never breaks the flow of the music. His singing is natural and unaffected.’ This remark goes well with my view on the earlier record but in some songs, primarily the latest of the recordings, I reacted to a more emphatic approach with broader brush-strokes and greater emphasis. It is a more expressionist reading and is no doubt valid for particular poems but arguably not for this particular voice. We have become used to this emphatic way of bringing poems to life, not least through Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s many deep-probing readings. F-D however had a voice of enormous weight and darkness and even though he could be hectoring and barking, even distorting the tone, his larger-than-life personality could carry it through with both feet firmly on the ground. With Bostridge I occasionally feel that he has to rise on tiptoe to bring it off; even then he is a size too small for his intentions. But – let me qualify this criticism immediately – those moments are very much exceptions; with his intelligence he knows very well his limitations and keeps the readings within those confines.
In Leif Ove Andsnes he has a partner who is as strong a personality possessing a dramatic potential that might be overwhelming for a lesser singer. In Auf der Bruck, one of the most expressive of these songs, his intense playing has one sitting on the edge of the chair, yet he never swamps the singer. This is to a great extent thanks to Bostridge’s keen projection, where volume isn’t the carrier of the message but the vividness, the plangent tone and the word-painting. Der Winterabend is enhanced through the exquisitely shaded piano interlude. In Der Unglückliche Bostridge begins almost inaudibly, half hidden behind the piano. He then gradually rises to his full height but still singing most of the song at a melancholy pianissimo, making the whole composition a work on equal terms, where the piano part is sometimes even more important than the song line.
Auf dem Strom is a parallel to the better known Der Hirt auf dem Felsen – a chamber music trio with French horn instead of clarinet and only half as long. It may not have the same melodic appeal as Der Hirt but it is a fine work. Timothy Brown plays his far from easy horn part skilfully.
Towards the end of CD 2 there are some fragments – or sometimes rather more than that, but they are unfinished in varying degree. Why, for instance, Schubert left Pflicht and Liebe without setting the last work ‘Pflicht’ is an enigma. He set only set two out of the four stanzas, but the remaining two are printed in the booklet and the same goes for Lebensmut. The dramatic, hair-raising Johanna Sebus, a Goethe text, is set in full but he seems to have lost interest when he got as far as the postlude. Even so it is good to have these fragments as chips from Schubert’s workshop and Bostridge and Andsnes take even the chips seriously.
As I commented on the disc with Julius Drake, there are songs that are better suited to a baritone than a light tenor but as a whole, this is another prime example of Ian Bostridge’s way with Schubert’s songs.
Göran Forsling


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