When the last piece on a program is loud and fast a standing ovation often follows. But what if the performance ends in subdued mood, as with the bleak ‘Der Leiermann’ from Schubert’s Winterreise?
Ideally the audience is so moved that the only appropriate response is silence – which is exactly what happened here. Then, finally, the applause started, gradually building up and eventually giving Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès a rousing ovation, the artists looking utterly spent. They had not only performed Schubert’s song-cycle, they had lived it.
Bostridge, who has written a book about Winterreise, is arguably its foremost interpreter today. His thorough immersion in Schubert’s world found an expression that can in some ways be compared to a Shakespearean monologue. Fully inhabiting the character, Bostridge took us through the various stages of a psychological journey – from torment and anguish to resignation – not only vocally, but also by means of bodily expression, nervous energy gradually giving way to stillness, yet so naturally achieved.
Bostridge’s voice is uncannily even throughout the registers, from baritonal low notes (such as in the middle section of ‘Gefrorne Tränen’) to a floated top, and he was using every means of expression conceivable – conveying the drama of ‘Rückblick’ and the repulsiveness of ‘Die Krähe’, but also the nostalgia of ‘Der Lindenbaum’, and ultimately the desolation of ‘Der Leiermann’.
Thomas Adès was the ideal partner, never covering Bostridge in even the most dramatic passages, always fully attuned to the texts, and perfectly setting moods – most notably for ‘Einsamkeit’ and ‘Im Dorfe’ – with his exquisite touch.
This was a musical experience at its best.