Gesänge des Harfners, D478
An Mignon, D161
Mignon Lieder, D877
Normans Gesang, D846
Grenzen der Menschheit, D716
Kantate zum Geburtstag des Sängers Johann Michael Vogl, D666
Der König in Thule, D367
Gretchen am Spinnrade, D118
Gretchens Bitte, D564
Szene aus Faust, D126
Licht und Liebe, D352
Der Hochzeitsbraten, D930
Dorothea Röschmann (soprano), Ian Bostridge (tenor), Thomas Quasthoff (baritone) & Julius Drake (piano)
Reviewed by: John T. Hughes
Reviewed: 14 January, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
The presence of three singers in an evening of Schubert means that some infrequently heard duets and trios can be performed. So it was at this Barbican Hall concert, with the dramatic confrontation of Marguerite and Mephistopheles in the ‘Faust’ scene and the almost comic-opera trio “Der Hochzeitsbraten”. With such renowned soloists on hand, though, individual contributions were to the fore, beginning with Ian Bostridge singing the Harper’s three songs.
As a result of many conversations over the years with concert-goers and record-collectors, I have come to the conclusion that Bostridge divides opinion more than any other English tenor since Peter Pears. To whichever side one veers the reasons for the division seem clear. The voice, I suggest, is not one of beauty. It can be white in tone, while a leaning on drawn-out vowels sometimes creates a yowling effect. Then there are the physical mannerisms: looking down at the platform while standing at right angles to the audience, stretching on tiptoe and generally failing to be still. On the other hand, an earnestness of purpose, a seriousness of approach and an overall intelligence serve well. All those aspects were experienced in the Harper trilogy and “An Mignon”, his allotted solos, in which head-voice was often used judiciously. My impression was as usual: a mixture of satisfaction and irritation.
No reservations tainted my pleasure in hearing Dorothea Röschmann, whose tone was at its loveliest: limpid, crystalline, focused, the voice of a full-throated Mozart soprano rather than a soubrette. Her Mignon was a touching, vulnerable creature, while her tone remained firm. In the second half she turned to Marguerite, with three separate songs, of which the vocalization of “Der König in Thule” was particularly beautiful. The scene with the Mephistopheles of Thomas Quasthoff was gripping: not a Schubertian melody that one can hum with ease but an intense dialogue. On the lighter side was “Licht und Liebe”, sweetly sung by soprano and tenor.
Quasthoff’s contribution began with “Normans Gesang”, which is not one of Schubert’s best. Far more worthy is “Ganymed”, whose opening lines were delivered reflectively before a fuller tone was employed as the song progressed. “Grezen der Menschheit” drew varied colours from Quasthoff’s vocal palette, so important in such a powerful piece. His wide range meant there was no pushing for notes as his voice rang out. He ended his group with “Erlkönig”, in which he convincingly related the eerie tale, the various characters differentiated without exaggeration.
The evening’s first half ended with the ‘Cantata for Michael Vogl’. It is rather strangely divided among the singers in that the baritone is heard in only the first and last stanzas, with soprano and tenor having much larger assignments, the lady being especially well served. All four participants made significant contributions.
It was with the other trio, “Der Hochzeitsbraten”, that the evening ended. It is an amusing composition in which an engaged couple are caught poaching but then invite their captor to the wedding. It involves the soprano in funny noises and both lovers in a “La la la” outburst, in which the bass joins briefly, mockingly so here with Quasthoff deliciously ugly of tone. It showed that the three singers had a comic side and brought an enjoyable concert to a close.
Constant throughout was Julius Drake, who supplied playing of great delicacy, as in the Harper’s “Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt”, agile fingerwork (“Erlkönig”) and grave eloquence (“Grenzen der Menschheit”), with concomitant shading and intensity.