SCHUBERT Songs Vol 3 (Bostridge)
The third volume of Ian Bostridge’s leisurely Schubert series for Wigmore Hall Live is devoted to songs dealing with longing – urgent, resigned, realistic or unrequited. As previously in the series, the tenor puts together a stimulating mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar, and is supported with unerring sensitivity and skill at the piano by Julius Drake. The recording – live, of course – is excellent.
At no stage, either, does one doubt Bostridge’s intellectual or emotional commitment; he is alive to the text as few other singers are today. The voice, now more than two decades since he burst on to the scene with his first fresh-faced Schöne Müllerin, has inevitably lost some of its honey but there’s an undeniable honesty in its reedier, more tensile timbre.
However, while the the programme offers a variety of moods within its own poetic parameters, the tenor’s own emotional palette can feel limited, calling on familiar habits which, according to taste, one could define as either expressive strategies or musical tics. Unsophisticated, unmediated ardour doesn’t come easily, and ‘Bei dir allein’, for example, turns into an unusually angsty affair. And compare, for example, Bostridge’s account of ‘Der Wanderer an den Mond’ with the disarming straightforwardness of Benjamin Appl’s recent account, also on WHL, with Graham Johnson (7/16).
Often one wishes the tenor would take his foot off the interpretative throttle, relax and let the words speak for themselves. There are other times, though, where one welcomes his intensity, such as in an imposing account of ‘Normans Gesang’; and his extra pointing of the words certainly keeps you on your toes as a listener – listen to the strikingly varied ‘Der Einsame’ or a wide-eyed, vulnerable ‘Im Abendrot’.
It doesn’t all work for me, admittedly, but there’s no doubt that Bostridge and Drake offer Schubert that never rests, never ceases in its Wanderer-like quest for new interpretative possibilities.