“So everything here beckons me with longing, calling to me with the sounds of love.” So went the final stanza of Schubert’s lyrical lied Im Freien, D.880 (In the Open) last night. The concert by English tenor Ian Bostridge and collaborative pianist Julius Drake provided a sublime Valentine’s Day gift of Schubert Lieder, more than twenty examples in all. The romantic spirit was at the heart of the program. Bostridge and Blake together amplified Schubert’s words and music to present a treatise on German romanticism.
It was as though we were at a ‘Schubertiad’ last night, an evening in a salon in nineteenth century Vienna. The songs of love, longing, hope, despair, death, nature and loneliness were a précis of Schubert’s 600 songs. Bostridge, in his second appearance at Koerner Hall, together with pianist Julius Drake created the intimate atmosphere for the large audience. Bostridge has a voice that easily traverses the lows and highs of the tenor range. There is a light lyrical quality to his singing that becomes dramatic and dark when the music and text demand. There is nothing forced and yet the power to express is overwhelming.
Ian Bostridge may be the latest re-incarnation of Dietrich Fischer-Diskau, the German lieder singer of renown of the last century. Like Fischer-Diskau, Bostridge’s tall frame is riveting on stage. He uses it to enhance the expressiveness of his singing. He leans into the piano turning away from the audience, and then forward always moving for dramatic emphasis. Sometimes he is on his toes and at other times hunched into a position of great intensity, his eyes always telling the story that his music is conveying.
Bostridge is a true renaissance character. At age 53, he has won virtually every recording prize. He has recorded close to fifty albums since beginning his singing career at age 27. At that age he had already earned a D. Phil from Oxford and published a critically acclaimed book on witchcraft in the period 1650-1750. More recently, his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of Obsession has been translated into several languages.
Last night, it was his embodiment of the text and music that endeared him to the hearts of the listeners whose prolonged applause demanded encores. He was one with pianist Julius Drake at every turn of phrase. In Der Wanderer, D.493 that opened the second half, the repeated chords in a minor key described a biting cold in the piano introduction leading to the opening line, “From the mountains I have come.” The silence at the end of the first stanza was stunningly poignant following the line, “I walk in silence, with little joy, and my sighs keep asking – Where?” Schubert’s genius combined with the expressiveness of the both performers added up to an deeply emotional experience.
Upon leaving after the second encore (The Trout), I wondered how many more encores there might have been. The audience was certainly ready to stay. This was the second in the Vocal Concert Series presented by Koerner Hall this season. Barbara Hannigan appeared in December. The final series concert will take place on April 22 when the celebrated Canadian baritone Gerald Finley will combine with last night’s pianist Julius Drake in what will no doubt be a memorable program of Beethoven, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and a selection of favourite folk songs.
Tenor Ian Bostridge; Photo credit: Sim Canetty-Clarke
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Collaborative pianist Julius Drake; Photo credit: Marco Borggreve
Review by Dave Richards
Toronto ON February 15th 2018
Schubert’s romantic songs: The perfect Valentine’s Day treat at Koerner Hall