Ian Bostridge: Shakespeare Songs
Nearly 20 years after Ian Bostridge made his recording debut with a delicate, rhapsodic collection of English song (‘The English Songbook’ – EMI, A/99), the tenor comes full circle with a recording full of Finzi, Quilter, Gurney and Warlock. But, this time round, the pastoral rhapsody is tempered by the sharper edges of companion repertoire from Stravinsky and Tippett – a deliciously eclectic and intelligent collection all bound together by the poetry of William Shakespeare.
As anniversary tributes go, this is a good one. With the help of lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and a starry roster of solo instrumentalists, Bostridge roams not only over four centuries of repertoire (from Byrd and Morley to Tippett) but also right across the music map, exploring responses to Shakespeare by Haydn, Schubert, Korngold, Poulenc and Stravinsky as well as home-grown composers. Inevitably certain texts recur, and the comparisons are fascinating. Take Poulenc’s languorous setting of ‘Fancie’, for example, juxtaposed neatly here with the fretful urgency of Britten’s. We hear ‘Come away, Death’ move from Finzi’s heavy, inevitable tread through Quilter’s more expansive response to the heady, intoxicating lullaby that is Korngold’s treatment.
In the interest of a well-rounded collection, Bostridge shamelessly raids the repertoire of other voice parts. Written for mezzo, Stravinsky’s Three Songs from William Shakespeare come up edgier and more androgynous here in a high voice, an effect that works beautifully for the outer songs, ‘Musick to heare’ and ‘Spring’, but less so for ‘Full fadom five’, where deeper shades and greater weight are needed at the bottom of the range. Even more contentiously, Bostridge also lays claim to Finzi’s great baritone cycle Let us garlands bring. The brooding ‘Come away, Death’ gains an eerie quality in Bostridge’s interpretation and his upper register also lends an uncanny colour to the close of ‘Fear no more’. This is less a replacement for baritone recordings than a curious and fascinating supplement to them.
Bostridge’s sensitivity to text and ability to spin a line right through even the densest of consonant clusters makes for a compelling collection that is strongest in contemporary repertoire, where Pappano’s piano is more capable of matching his expressive extremes than Kenny’s gentle lute.