I'll stand by the program, which was beautifully chosen: three Mahler songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, the German composer Rudi Stephan's short song cycle "Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied," written 1913-14, George Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad of 1909-11, Weill's Four Walt Whitman Songs, and four songs from Britten's Who Are These Children?
A nicely varied program, from the familiar Mahler to the virtually unknown Stephan. Both Stephan and Butterworth died in the carnage of World War I, and while I liked the Butterworth very much, the Stephan cycle was simply exquisite, and left me wanting more. There is more, according to the program notes, and I will be looking into it. The Weill settings struck me as rather stylistically apart from the poetry. Not that I think Whitman unsettable, but these lightly-bluesey-Broadway-ish settings did not seem right. I'd never heard the Britten before, and now I'll be looking for something that must be out there, a recording with Britten and Pears.
As to the performance - well, this was the first and last time I'll be seeing Ian Bostridge in recital. Briefly, he has no upper register, he has no lower register, and in between all he has is a few tricks and mannerisms. He can hit a note and swell; he can sing softly.
But he can't put across a song. There's no line, just some notes. His phrasing did not illuminate the text.
I was toward the rear of Hertz, which is not a huge venue, and I could understand maybe one in ten words....when he was singing in English. It's as if all of his consonants were lost someplace in the back of his throat. He also has distracting mannerisms; he looks at the floor, he tilts his body, he leans on the piano and looks at the pianist...and his face scrunches up in all sorts of odd ways. He might think he is somehow dramatizing the text, or maybe he's just very nervy on stage.
You might be wondering why I stayed! Well, the pianist, Wenwen Du, was fantastic; most of the music in the hall was coming from her, whether her ferocity in Mahler's "Revelge" or the extreme delicacy in Britten's "Nightmare." I would love to hear her again, in chamber music, paired with a different singer, or in solo recital.
- Steven Winn in SFCV