INKPOT#54 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: SCHUMANN Liederkreis Op.24. Dichterliebe Op.48. Bostridge (EMI)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Liederkreis, Op. 24
Belsazar, Op. 57
Abends am Strand, Op.45/3
Die beiden Grenadiere, Op.49/1
Dein Angesicht, Op.127/2
Lehn deine Wang, Op.142/2
Es leuchtet meine Leibe, Op.127/3
Mein Wagen rollet langsam, Op.142/4IAN BOSTRIDGE tenor
JULIUS DRAKE piano
EMI Classics 5 56575-2
by Ng Yeuk Fan
His is a voice full of freshness. I first noticed his beautiful voice in his rosetted Hyperion recording of Schubert’s Die schne Mllerin, a collaboration with Dietrich Fischer Dieskau as the reader and Graham Johnson at the piano. I was attracted by his sweet, youthful voice. Immediately very refreshing and very pleasantly so – the voice of Ian Bostridge.
Where required, Bostridge (left) can easily soar above the piano at forte too. Though vocal forces are readily at his command, his voice is undoubtedly a lieder voice. Any foray into opera should be limited to light lyrical roles. Even Mozart can be too taxing for this voice. One can hear some tightness as the register ascends above high G in the tenor range; full dexterity and openness is not available readily at his command in this upper register; nor is his lowest registers quite relaxed nor resonant enough (Track 15).
Bostridge’s mezza voce, the floated half-voice for those suspended sweet and high notes is not quite there yet. A very slight edge works both for and against his lieder voice. All in all, other than the misgivings in the lowest and highest registers, few tenors can compete with this golden voice of lieder.
But it is all too natural – that greatness in vocal achievement must be patiently awaited. Like any other instrument, the human voice takes its time to mature… just as a violin seasons with repeated playing, the human voice too, needs maturation; but few singers achieve success before 20 (unlike the prodigies in piano and violin arena) and most singers reach their vocal peak only in their early 40s. Bostridge’s voice is one worth waiting for.
Clearly then, the program featured here fits his present voice as a round peg would in a round hole. Bostridge presents a tantalizing program of all Schumann songs – The complete Liederkreis, Op.24; the complete Dichterlieber (“Poet’s Love”) Op.48 and a selection of seven bits and pieces, all of which are set to poems by Heinrich Heine.
The Lied, a native style of Germany, means simply “song”. They were popularised in the nineteenth century in part due to the German Romantic movement, with its tremendous wealth of lyric poetry by such greats as Goethe, Heine, Schiller, Morike and Ruckert. German composers such as Schumann, Schubert, Wolf, Brahms and Mahler all made significant contributions to the genre.
This program of Schumann songs is about love. An element of unrequited love and its destructive force runs through both the major cycles featured here. It is described that Schumann scored these songs just a few months before his marriage to Clara Wieck, when the two have been living quite apart from each other.
It is no wonder than that Schumann chose to set the poems of Heine, several which reflect strong unrequited tensions. Schumann, whose life met with sufficient emotional turmoil to land his last years in an asylum, writes with a full blown romantic style that is characterised by warmly lyric and colourful melodies with a wide range of emotional expression. His songs are notable for their inspired setting of words to music and for the equal partnering of the piano with the vocal line. Hear Track 25, Das ist ein Floten und Geigen from his Dicterliebe – one of his most famous works.
Ian Bostridge, clearly an intelligent reader, gives a well-studied account of these art songs full of subtly inflected nuances and vocal colouring. One does not feel any lack of spontaneity in these readings. There is some hint that Bostridge could be taking more liberties with the voice here than in his Hyperion recording. Some unorthodox gliss between two notes are heard here and there; a liberty permitted only to the best among established singers such as Schwarzkopf and Angeles. Scholars may decry them as less than artistic; here Bostridge is clearly enjoying himself. Intonation problems are virtually non-existent while execution can hardly be faulted.
There are too many fine examples that can be mentioned. For sampling purposes, I would suggest the following tracks, a full display of Bostridge’s artistry is collected therein.
- Track 2 Es treibt mich hin
- Track 14 Lehn deine Wang an meine Wang
- Track 17 Im wunderschnen Monat Mai
- Track 19 Die Rose, die Lilie
- Track 23 Ich grolle nicht
Julius Drake is sensitive to the needs of Bostridge’s voice. Apart from rare moments which could have benefited from better communication between the two, Drakes playing is clean and efficient. One hoped however, for more flair from the accompanist. There is some lack of imagination and personality in this accompaniment. Though both are accomplished musicians, one feels that there is some shortage of synergistic inspiration between the two that would have propelled this recording into a sure award-winner.
This recording by EMI is clear and well-focused, with the piano and voice well-balanced. The voice is well-positioned with respect to the piano. With the exception of being a bit on the dry side, revealing the edge in Bostridge’s voice, there is little to complain about in this EMI effort. Program notes are sufficient and the new photo of Bostridge is considerably more tastefully done compared to Hyperion’s.
One cannot seem to get enough of Bostridge.
In Singapore, this CD is available at or can be ordered from Sing Discs (Raffles City), Tower (Pacific Plaza & Suntec City), HMV (The Heeren) and Borders (Wheelock Place).
186: 29.5.1998. up.3.2.2000 NG Yeuk Fan