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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Lieder - Volume 3
Ian Bostridge (tenor)
Julius Drake (piano)
rec. live, 15 September 2014, Wigmore Hall, London, DDD
German texts & English translations included

This is the third Schubert recital by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake that the Wigmore Hall Live label has released. Their previous two albums were outstanding (Volume 1 ~ Volume 2) so I was eager to get my hands on this latest offering.

This latest recital explores the theme of longing in various guises. I must say that I was very slightly disconcerted by the way in which the programme opens. Das Heimweh (Longing for home) opens almost abruptly. There’s no piano introduction; instead the singer and pianist begin together. Of course, in the concert hall you’d see the artists settle physically but that option is unavailable in an audio recording and the listener is mildly surprised when the music starts. However, within seconds Ian Bostridge’s plangent delivery draws you right into the words and music. This little song acts as a kind of prologue to a group of five settings of poems by Johann Siedl (1804-1875). In Sehnsucht Bostridge’s singing is emotionally charged and this enables him to make Schubert’s eventual change from the minor key to the major all the more compelling. The best known of these Siedl settings is Der Wanderer an den Mond and here I very much admire the contrast that Bostridge and Drake make between the Wanderer’s weary trudge in the first two stanzas and Schubert’s more easeful treatment of essentially the same musical material when the poet speaks of the moon in the remaining two stanzas. The final Siedl setting is Das Zügenglöcklein (The passing bell). Richard Stokes explains in his authoritative notes that the passing bell was traditionally rung in Austrian churches when a parishioner was close to death. Schubert replicates the sound of the bell through the device of a constantly recurring note in the piano part. Siedl’s summons to death is essentially easeful and Schubert responds suitably in a touching setting. Bostridge and Drake perform the song beautifully.

Freiwilliges Versinken (Voluntary oblivion), a Mayrhofer setting, is an extraordinary song, not least because the harmonic language is dark and searching. The piano part is very potent, especially at the start, and Schubert’s vocal line is extremely low lying – almost baritonal – at times. You can sense that Bostridge is being taken to the lowest extremity of his vocal compass though he meets the challenge successfully. I confess I didn’t know this song very well; it deserves to be better known. There are three stanzas and on the last three words of the second one – “naht die Nacht” (night draws near) - Schubert effects a miraculous shift, lightening the mood to anticipate the images of moonrise in the final stanza.

Der zürnenden Diana (To Diana in her wrath) is another Mayrhofer song. The poem expresses strong thoughts and Schubert sets the words dramatically in a song of no little ambition. The first half of the programme ends with two settings of lines by Sir Walter Scott, Lied des Gefangenen Jägers and Normans Gesang. Both texts are extracts from the narrative poem, The Lady of the Lake, in a German translation. Both songs require the singer to tell the story and Ian Bostridge does just that in a very compelling fashion. After Normans Gesang there’s a generous amount of applause though until this point I had been unaware of the presence of this well-disciplined audience.

Part two of the recital opens with Der Wanderer, a great Romantic song. Julius Drake sets the tone with a potent delivery of the premonitory piano introduction. He and Bostridge give a masterly performance of the song and I greatly admired their telling use of Schubertian rubato. They’re equally successful, but n a completely different way, in their graceful account of An die Laute while Der Jüngling an der Quelle is given a deliciously limpid reading. Schlaflied, another Mayrhofer setting, is a highly appealing cradle song and the present performance is expertly poised.

Das Lied im Grünen (Song of the open air) is a charming and happy song about life in the great outdoors. The words are borne along on an apparently effortless melodic flow. It seems to me that Bostridge and Drake’s collective artistry brings out the best in this song. Der Einsame, which follows, is a most engaging song. Here, as he does throughout the recital, Bostridge makes the most of the words, bringing the sentiments of the poem vividly to life. I’ve usually seen the title of this song translated as ‘The lonely man’ but in the booklet it’s here translated as ‘The recluse’. That, it seems to me, fits rather better and all the more so since the third line of the poem is translated by Richard Stokes as ‘I sit contentedly in my chair’. Reclusiveness need not necessarily equate with loneliness and that view seems to be borne out by Schubert’s music and by the present performers’ way with it.

The formal programme ends with Im Abendrot, a setting of a poem by Karl Gottlieb Lappe (1773-1843). The words are warm and contented and Schubert clothes them in glowing music. This performance by Bostridge and Drake is elevated and wonderfully controlled. It makes for a very satisfying conclusion to their programme. There’s just time for a short encore and Klage an den Mond (Lament to the moon) proves to be a delectable choice.

This is another highly distinguished Schubert recital by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake which I enjoyed from start to finish. Here is artistry at the highest level and the disc is a richly satisfying successor to their two previous recitals for the Wigmore Hall Live label. We can only hope that in due course there will be a fourth volume in this series. The recorded sound is very good indeed – the engineer is Steve Portnoi – as is the documentation. As I indicated earlier the audience is commendably silent save for vociferous – and fully justified – applause after Normans Gesang and Im Abendrot and again after the encore. Incidentally, Im Abendrot ends quietly and, happily, this discriminating audience allows a decent interval to elapse before showing their appreciation.

John Quinn

Das Heimweh D456 [0:54]
Sehnsucht D879 [3:06]
Im Freien D880 [5:59]
Vier Refrainlieder D866 No. 2, Bei dir allein![2:04]
Der Wanderer an den Mond D870 [2:27]
Das Zügenglöcklein D871 [5:28]
Die Perle D466 [1:16]
Freiwilliges Versinken D700 [4:05]
Der zürnenden Diana D707 (2nd version) [4:43]
Lied des Gefangenen Jägers D843 [2:59]
Normans Gesang D846 [3:16]
Der Wanderer D493 [5:33]
Hippolits Lied D890 [2:33]
An die Laute D905 [1:33]
An mein Klavier D342 [2:41]
Der Jüngling an der Quelle D300 [1:29]
Wie Ulfru Fischt D525 [2:05]
Schlaflied D527 [3:42]
An die Freunde D654 [3:41]
Das Lied im Grünen D917 [5:52]
Der Einsame D800 [4:34]
Im Abendrot D799 [4:02]
Klage an den Mond D436 (encore) [1:47]



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