English tenor Ian Bostridge recently sang a Wigmore Hall performance of Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin accompanied by pianist Saskia Giorgini captured and now released by Pentatone (PTC5186775, CD).
Needed for a great performance of Die schöne Müllerin, to begin with, are a keen pair of interpreters – the pianist not merely an accompanist but a sensitive artist with a gift for both following the singer and for imprinting on Schubert’s piano part the collaborative artist’s viewpoint, one consonant with that of the singer.
As for the singer, a gifted artist is required, one endowed with a supple vocal instrument capable of singing twenty songs, many of them strophic, avoiding sameness and with the ability to imbue each song with a gamut of colors ranging from melancholy, to passion, to anger and to ultimate resignation.
While tenor Ian Bostridge has enjoyed a successful career primarily as a recitalist and concert singer since making his professional debut at the age of 27, today his vocal instrument betrays some wear and tear, most evident in the top range that once was easy vocal territory for his light lyric voice. While he is fully in command of the most dramatic of the songs in the cycle – Ungeduld, for example, in an earlier recording with pianist Mitsuko Uchida, today at age 56 he has to reach for the top notes in that song, creating the impression of discomfort in that part of his voice and evidencing some roughness in his tone.
Ian Bostridge is still capable of singing with utter gentleness the more lyrical songs in the cycle – Wohin, for one, and the final sequence of Trockne Blumen, Der Müller und der Bach, and Des Baches Wiegenlied.
Schubert wrote these songs for the tenor voice, although he later transposed them to medium voice keys accessible to baritones, such as Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, Gerard Souzay, Mathias Goerne, and Hermann Prey. Tenors Jonas Kauffmann, Christoph Prégardien, and Fritz Wunderlich among countless others have sung and recorded Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin in the original keys all with a modicum of success. I prefer the recordings of baritone Hermann Prey and tenor Fritz Wunderlich, both of which attain vocal perfection and the ability to get across the words of Wilhelm Müller.
To summarize, throughout his thirty year career Ian Bostridge has achieved many glories. Perhaps the time has come for him to reconsider his repertory choices, so that we can remember him not only as the great singer of three decades ago but as one of today’s most skilled concert singers.
Rafael de Acha www.RafaelMusicNotes.com