Oxford Lieder Festival – Over Silent Lands – Ian Bostridge & Imogen Cooper

An die ferne Geliebte, Op.98

Liederkreis, Op.39

Ian Bostridge (tenor) & Imogen Cooper (piano)

Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran

Reviewed: 11 October, 2021
Venue: St John the Evangelist Church, Oxford

The Oxford Lieder Festival is celebrating its twentieth anniversary and has reconvened in a roomier venue for 2021, the lofty church of St John the Evangelist, on Iffley Road.

The rafters rang during the showcase recital as newcomer Sian Dicker gave a short programme before the main event. Multiple prizewinner Dicker gave a varied and nicely paced selection of Lieder by Felix & Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann. The shifting landscapes of love from the realm of the elves in ‘Neue liebe’ to Lorelei charged this rich and satisfying performance, which reached operatic heights of power and expression. At times the German was slightly unclear, but the dramatic meaning of the texts was conveyed with sparkling personality.

Two song-cycles made up the rest of the evening, Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved), through-composed and concise, and Robert Schumann’s magical Liederkreis (opus 39). The persuasive and crystalline accompaniment of Imogen Cooper gave the Beethoven a quiet majesty: the opening to the final song detailed the poet’s sense of longing and melancholy expectation to perfection. The echoes of birdsong in ‘Es kehret der Maien’ were a particular joy, and Ian Bostridge appeared to be looking up on high branches to find them. His tenor has mellowed of late and his tone is richer and more beautiful. This was a dramatic performance rather than a nuanced, precise interpretation of text.

The concert’s title, “Over Silent Lands”, was designed for Robert Schumann’s Liederkreis, settings of poetry by Joseph von Eichendorff of enigmatic nightscapes, foreign lands and the intense interior silences of lovers. The pointed differences in mood and tone, the shifts in light and dark were again dramatically communicated by Bostridge, often with extreme emphasis. The bell-like clarity of Cooper’s playing in ‘Auf einer Burg’ and the celebrated ‘Mondnacht’ was spellbinding.

The encore, Hugo Wolf’s ‘Verschwiegene Liebe’, extended the theme of silent love, the hushed sighs reflected in Bostridge’s effortless legato.

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