Dein Angesicht, Op.127/2
Lehn deine Wang, Op.142/2
Es leuchtet meine Liebe, Op.127/3
Mein Wagen rollet langsam, Op.142/4
Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht, Op.96/1
Neun Lieder, Op.32
Ian Bostridge (tenor) & Roger Vignoles (piano)
Reviewed by: Rian Evans
Reviewed: 26 June, 2009
Venue: Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
In his recital with Roger Vignoles on the last Friday of this year’s Aldeburgh Festival, there were two songs in Ian Bostridge’s programme which seemed particularly apt, with each in its own way serving to define the evening and the singer. Bostridge’s sequence of Brahms Lieder began with “Sommerabend”: the piano’s scene-setting conjured a gentle haze of evening light and, as Bostridge responded in glowing tone, nothing could have more appropriate for a summer evening at Snape. And, given the tenor’s apparent disinclination to stay in one spot on the platform for longer than three lines, it then felt like a nicely self-deprecating gesture on Bostridge’s part to include in his selection “Ich schleich umher”. Richard Stokes’s translation gave that as “I creep about”. So he does.
In the selection of Schumann songs which comprised the first half of the recital, Bostridge’s demeanour – which might almost be dyspraxic – at least had the virtue of making manifest the underlying angst-ridden nature of so many of these settings. But with Bostridge’s lightly mellifluous sound heard to great advantage in the Maltings acoustic, the overwhelming impression was of Schumann as absolutely central to the development of 19th-century romanticism. In the sequence of four late songs, singer and pianist pointed up wonderfully the flow of the phrasing and the deeply expressive harmonies. By contrast, the earlier of the two “Liederkreis”, written in 1840, pointed up the anguish and pain of the poet, and the very introspection of Bostridge’s manner – eyes gazing down and only rarely facing the audience directly – occasionally became so very poignant as to require a certain detachment on the part of the listener lest it all become unbearable. That was certainly the case in the last song of this cycle, ‘Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht’, where the weariness had a truly existential despair.
The other element of Schumann’s achievement that emerged very strongly in this performance was the intrinsic role of the piano in the structure: the instrument creates the emotional context in such a way as to allow the voice to add a new depth to the picture. Roger Vignoles’s playing was beautifully articulated and, in Schumann’s extraordinary postludes, he seemed not only to reflect on the feelings that the singer had invoked but also to encompass an extra dimension in these potent closing bars.
Vignoles’s Brahms was also deeply felt, yet, while Bostridge would surely not have been less sympathetically inclined towards Brahms than to Schumann, the tenor’s delivery was somehow less satisfying. On the surface of it, his highly individual tone ought to be ideal for Brahms, but, since he appears to rely on graduation of volume for effect rather than on varying colours, it became rather too predictable. Only in the last song, “Wie bist du, mein Königin”, as the poet compares his queen’s radiance to freshly blown roses, did Bostridge begin to stand upright and open up the voice and heart. With this being the last song of the recital, he really had left it a bit too late.