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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
1. Geheimnis An Franz Schubert D491 (1816) [2:00]
2. An Schwager Kronos D369 (?1816) [2:27]
3. Widerschein D949 (1819-20) [3:29]
Schwanengesang D957 (1827-28) (4. Liebesbotschaft [2:46]; 5. Kriegers Ahnung [4:47]; 6. Frühlingssehnsucht [2:57]; 7. Ständchen [3:59]; 8. Aufenthalt [2:31]; 9. In der Ferne [5:55]; 10. Abschied [3:42]; 11. Der Atlas [2:08]; 12. Ihr Bild [2:42]; 13. Das Fischermädchen [1:47]; 14. Die Stadt [2:26]; 15. Am Meer [4:14]; 16. Der Doppelgänger [3:49]; 17. Die Taubenpost [3:33]
18. Abschied D475 (1816) [5:13]
Ian Bostridge (tenor); Antonio Pappano (piano)
rec. 15-17 August 2008, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London
Sung texts with English and French translations enclosed
EMI CLASSICS 2426392 [60:51]

 

Experience Classicsonline


Ian Bostridge’s Lieder singing has divided opinions. I have myself only recently delved deeper into his art and remain in two minds – to a certain extent. There can be no mistake though that here is a serious intellectual who never skims the surface. He sings off the words and has a myriad subtle nuances in his aural palette. Neither is he afraid of trying new approaches to oft-heard songs. His voice is light, lyrical and rather reedy. At times it sounds almost androgynous – if there is such a thing as an androgynous sound. It is nonetheless a beautiful sound from pianissimo up to mezza-forte. Above mezza-forte it is good - and he never presses the voice beyond its natural limits - but it tends to sound undernourished. And herein lies a problem: the really dramatic pages of the song literature can sometimes elude him – at least when compared to the darker voices we are used to hearing in Schwanengesang. I have recently reviewed recordings by Siegfried Lorenz and Olaf Bär. I have long admired Hermann Prey and his early 1960s recording was the one through which I learnt these songs. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is in the same league. His DG recording with Gerald Moore (circa 1970) was my reference recording for this review. Compared to these and other tenors, notably Peter Schreier, Bostridge stands out as weaker and more – small-scale.

Let me say at once that small-scale is in no way deprecatory, it is just descriptive. Just as the maximum volume of a string quartet compared to a full string orchestra is a number of decibels lower so is Bostridge’s dynamic scope more compressed. Within this scope he is just as expressive as his stronger-voiced competitors. Moreover, intensity of expression is not just a question of volume. A pianissimo can be almost unbearably intense, sung with the right expression.

Compared to Fischer-Dieskau Bostridge is generally on the fast side, though not consistently so. In the first two songs he is marginally slower and also in songs No. 4-6, but the later songs are swifter and Der Doppelgänger considerably so. These slight differences in tempo paired with his lighter voice renders an airiness to the songs that is quite beguiling. Frühlingssehnsucht is eager and expectant and his lightness doesn’t exclude a rather powerful end to the song. Ständchen is beautiful and intimate, sung with a sensual caressing vibrato and a certain sweetness of tone, that shouldn’t be mistaken for crooning. In der Ferne has an almost transcendental atmosphere; no big gestures. Abschied is soft and restrained, inward and winding down more and more while nervously running. Der Atlas  is intense, almost panic-stricken, but this is a song that needs a stronger voice to make full impact. Ihr Bild is so extremely inward that it feels otherworldly – a strange feeling. Das Fischermädchen is light, almost weightless. Die Stadt begins almost inaudibly but the climax is intense enough but lacks the dark weight of Fischer-Dieskau – or any number of baritones. Am Meer is uncomplicatedly beautiful – as it should be: a most loveable song. Der Doppelgänger builds from nowhere; even the passages marked fff are comparatively soft, though the sheer intensity of Bostridge’s tone is heart-rending and he observes the accelerando marking at ‘Du Doppelgänger, du bleicher Geselle’ more eagerly than Fischer-Dieskau. The concluding Die Taubenpost flutters airily.

Before the ‘cycle’ he sings three independent songs of which Geheimnis is a superb example of his small print approach. An Schwager Kronos is a typical bold-type song and ideally requires a darker, more physical voice. Bostridge shows that expressive enunciation also pays dividends. Widerschein gets a rather self-indulgent reading with frequent tempo changes and in some places almost parodic tone – but it is fascinating even so.

The encore, Abschied D475, is extremely inward, as though he has already started to leave. Antonio Pappano plays exquisitely throughout and cleverly and sensitively adjusts the dynamics to the singer. What is marked fff becomes ff and at the other end of the dynamic scale ppp is played pppp. Small print indeed!

As I have pointed out in earlier reviews Ian Bostridge is a very special Lieder singer. Whatever he does is thoroughly analyzed and thought through. One can react to certain approaches that are not what one is used to but then, more often than not, he is quite refreshing. He has his own integrity and he is definitely never dull. Personally I still prefer Fischer-Dieskau – and he is never dull either – but every lover of these songs should lend an ear to Ian Bostridge. Certainly I will have this disc easily available for further listening. The recording is up to EMI’s generally high standards.

Göran Forsling

 

 





 


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