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Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Der Strom, D565 [1:40]
Auf der Donau, D553 [3:20]
Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren, D360 [3:03]
Nachtstück, D672 [5:28]
Viola, D786 [13:30]
Abendstern, D806 [2:17]
Gondelfahrer, D808 [1:58]
Auflösung, D807 [3:16]
Widerschein, D949 [3:45]
Alinde, D904 [3:52]
Rastlose Liebe, D138 [1:16]
Geheimes, D719 [1:53]
Versunken, D715 [2:06]
Der Winterabend, D938 [7:20]
Die Sterne, D939 [3:16]
Strophe aus ‘Die Götter Griechenlands’, D677 [5:16]
An den Mond, D259 [3:29]
Spoken introduction by Julius Drake [0:16]
An den Mond, D296 [6:20]
Ian Bostridge (tenor); Julius Drake (piano)
rec. live, 13 September 2013, Wigmore Hall, London. DDD
German texts and English translations included

The Wigmore Hall Live catalogue lists a number of excellent vocal recitals, most of which I’ve heard, but this may be one of the finest it has issued to date. Ian Bostridge has a high and well-deserved reputation as a Schubert singer. The qualities that he brings to Lieder, not least his acute care for words and his wide range of vocal colouring, imaginatively applied, are very much on display in this programme.
The first half of his programme, which ends with Auflösung, contains several Mayrhofer settings though proceedings are dominated by the substantial Viola, which sets a poem by Franz von Schober. The poem runs to nineteen verses and it seems to me that one of Schubert’s great achievements here is to rise to the challenge of setting the poem to varied music which always seems suitable to the strophe in question. Thus he sustains interest and also gives the singer and pianist the scope to interest the audience – which Bostridge and Drake most certainly do. In essence the song effectively traces the life cycle of a violet from the start of spring through to the winter weather that kills it off. This performance is a prime example of the way Bostridge cares for the words he is singing.
There are some fine Mayrhofer settings in the programme, quite a few of which have a watery association. But we start with an anonymous poem that also has a watery theme. Der Strom is aptly described in Richard Stokes’ note as ‘a breathless song’ and here it receives a performance that manages to be headlong yet controlled at the same time. At the start of the first Mayrhofer song, Auf der Donau, it seems, superficially, as if we’ve reached calmer waters. However it soon becomes apparent that there are eddying currents and undertows beneath the surface of the text, brilliantly suggested in Schubert’s music. Bostridge conveys the dark attributes of the song very well. Gondelfahrer is similarly deceptive. The music might suggest at first a Venetian nocturne but there’s more to the poem than this. As Richard Stokes points out it’s a subtly worded commentary on the repressive regime of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that ran Venice at the time, stamping out dissent. This dark song contains a significant amount of music that lies very low for a tenor but Bostridge is completely up to that particular challenge.
Among the other Mayrhofer songs is Nachtstück. The title translates in the booklet as ‘Nocturne’ but that really doesn’t prepare the listener for a remarkably intense song about an old man waiting for the long sleep of death. It receives a super, highly imaginative performance here. The first half of the recital ends with an extraordinary and dramatic outpouring, Auflösung, which is vividly sung by Bostridge while Julius Drake’s driving pianism propels the music forward in exciting style.
I may be wrong but I don’t think that either Widerschein or Alinde are among Schubert’s most frequently performed songs. However, Ian Bostridge makes a strong case for them and both benefit from the wide range of vocal colours at his disposal. He and Drake bring real urgency to Rastlose Liebe, giving it as headlong a performance as they did with Der Strom at the start of the programme. There’s almost no pause at all between that song and Geheimes while Versunken again follows on with barely a moment to catch the breath; that’s perceptive performing. I love the light, springing way in which both performers deliver Die Sterne while Strophe aus ‘Die Götter Griechenlands’ is given a deeply expressive reading. Happily, the perceptive Wigmore Hall audience allow a lengthy pause before their vociferous applause.
The two encores are settings of the same Goethe poem, the first composed in 1815 and the second some four years later. The earlier version of An den Mond, which is slightly abridged in this performance, has a wonderful melancholic melody which Schubert extends each time over two of Goethe’s four-line stanzas. The later setting is a deeper response to the poem, both in the vocal line and in the piano part. This time Schubert is inspired in the way he varies the music so as not to offer a ‘mere’ strophic setting.
The Wigmore Hall audience is renowned as a discerning one and they are commendably silent throughout the performances but at the end of each half of the recital they show strong appreciation and I’m not surprised. This programme offers Schubert performances of distinction and perception by both performers. I enjoyed the recital from start to finish. At the start of his notes Richard Stokes mentions that this was the first of a series of four Schubert Liederabende that Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake presented at Wigmore Hall: dare we hope that the other three were recorded for issue in the future?
Richard Stokes contributes an excellent note and it is his fine and sympathetic translations of all but one of the songs that are included in the booklet. The recorded sound is very good.
This is a recital that all lovers of Schubert Lieder should hear.
John Quinn