Ian Bostridge & Antonio Pappano

Schwanengesang, D957 [Rellstab settings]: Liebesbotschaft; Kriegers Ahnung; Frühlingssehnsucht; Ständchen; Aufenhalt; In der Fernen; Abschied
Mörike Lieder: Der Genesene an die Hoffnung; Der Knabe und das Immlein; Begegnung; Nimmersatte Liebe; Verborgenheit; Im Frühling; Auf einer Wanderung; Um Mitternacht
Eichendorff Lieder: Der Musikant; Verschwiegene Liebe; Das Ständchen; Nachtzauber; Seemans Abschied

Ian Bostridge (tenor) & Antonio Pappano (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 16 September, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

After hearing Ian Bostridge sing Schubert live many times, I have come to the conclusion that he really doesn’t have much sympathy with the composer.

‘Liebesbotschaft’ (Love’s message) was slow, the phrasing at the start of the final stanza too knowing. The second song – ‘Kriegers Ahnung’ (Warrior’s Foreboding) – made up for an over-pedalled piano introduction with a suitably dark tone and much dynamic variation from the singer; however there was no true sense of foreboding and the last note was off-key.

‘Frühlingssehnsucht’ (Spring Longing) needed more pointing in the opening stanza; in the third, Bostridge sounded more like he was giving orders rather than invoking spring, while in the last he came close to shouting and going through his tone despite a beautiful mezza voce at one point, but overall the song lacked mellifluousness, as did Pappano’s accompaniment.

‘In der Ferne’ (Far away) was better, with a fine sense of sweep and power, and acute, but never over-emphatic, word-painting. Unfortunately, the final song was sabotaged by Pappano’s heavy-handed, over-pedalled, too evenly-voiced contribution and Bostridge failed to suggest a true sense of parting and despair. Throughout these songs Bostridge’s use of swells of tone and sudden diminuendos came close to being predictable. Everything was just too calculated.

The second half was an entirely different matter. Bostridge recently wrote in “The Guardian” (15 September 2006) that Wolf composed songs like one possessed and that the opening song ‘Der Genesene an die Hoffnung’ (He who has recovered addresses hope) “is an overt recognition of composition as pathology, a celebration of a release from artistic incapacity” and he gave a very dark account of the song, where the dislocation between the voice and piano was vividly recreated and there was a sense of being suffocated by longing.

Throughout (and in stark contrast to the Schubert), the word-painting sounded completely natural: ‘Im Frühling’ brought exceptional intensity and a beautifully breathed thread of sound on the final word; the rising line of Verschwiegende Liebe (Silent Love) was exceptional. The more epigrammatic form of these songs seems far better suited to Bostridge’s technique and style. I was not quite so convinced by Pappano. While his attack in the final song was tremendous, the rippling right-hand parts found in many of the songs often lacked form and precision, while his dynamic and tonal range was limited. Bostridge and Pappano have recorded a selection of Wolf’s Lieder for EMI (3 42256 2).

There were two encores. ‘Auf ein altes Bild’ was sung on a thread of sound, while Wolf’s lamentable attack on that noble sub-species, critics, was both sung and played with unseemly delight!

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