Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Eugene Onegin at Seattle

Passion! Pain! Poetry! (but hold the irony . . .)

Unusual and beautiful: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė with the Kremerata Baltica, in this new release from Deutsche Grammophon.

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Diana Damrau sings Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder on Erato

“How weary we are of wandering/Is this perhaps death?” These closing words of ‘Im Abendrot’, the last of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder, and the composer’s own valedictory work, now seem unusually poignant since they stand as an epitaph to Mariss Jansons’s final Strauss recording.

Vaughan Williams Symphonies 3 & 4 from Hyperion

Latest in the highly acclaimed Hyperion series of Ralph Vaughan Williams symphonies, Symphonies no 3 and 4, with Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, recorded in late 2018 after a series of live performances.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Thomanerchor and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

This Accentus release of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, recorded live on 15/16th December 2018 at St. Thomas’s Church Leipzig, takes the listener ‘back to Bach’, so to speak.

Retrospect Opera's new recording of Ethel Smyth's Fête Galante

Writing in April 1923 in The Bookman, of which he was editor, about Ethel Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate (1913-14) - the most frequently performed of the composer’s own operas during her lifetime - Rodney Bennett reflected on the principal reasons for the general neglect of Smyth’s music in her native land.

A compelling new recording of Bruckner's early Requiem

The death of his friend and mentor Franz Seiler, notary at the St Florian monastery to which he had returned as a teaching assistant in 1845, was the immediate circumstance which led the 24-year-old Anton Bruckner to compose his first large-scale sacred work: the Requiem in D minor for soloists, choir, organ continuo and orchestra, which he completed on 14th March 1849.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

21 Aug 2019

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Snape Proms: Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Ian Bostridge

Photo credit: Sim Canetty-Clarke

 

A virtuoso linguist, a fecund neologist, facilely and exuberantly toying with form and metre, Rückert was and is seen by some as an affected and artificial versifier: a stylist rather than a poet. Not so the composers whom his work inspired: among them, Schubert, Robert and Clara Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, Richard Strauss, Zemlinsky, Bartók, Berg, Wolf, Hindemith and Henze.

One might feel, in fact, that the six Rückert settings by Schubert with which the recital commenced were chosen for their simplicity and directness, not for their affectation, though they were certainly not lacking in sensibility. ‘Die Wallfahrt’ (The pilgrimage) emerged only in 1968, when a copy of the song was discovered by Reinhard Van Hoorickx in the Cornaro family library. Barely 16 bars long, just over a minute in length, this song’s piano accompaniment supports the voice with broadly spaced spread chords, and the sombre vocal line falls dark and deep: it is hardly the sort of song with which one might expect a tenor to open a recital. Indeed, it was originally written for bass voice; but its combination of spirituality and humanity (the text was published in Rückert’s Östliche Rosen in the early 1820s) set the tone for the whole recital.

The opening piano chords of ‘Greisengesang’ (Old man’s song) were imposing, and the sparseness of the voice-piano unisons and homophony were chilling; but the old man’s memories of youth and love lingered and lived, as Bostridge’s tender, time-transporting head voice revealed. The winter has whitened his hair, but the flush of youthful passion glows in his cheeks. Did the poet-speaker’s voice, softening, shadowed, sink at the close into a deep forest of dreams or into the underworld? Were the piano’s three rich cadential chords a warm bed of rest or tolling bells? We could not know.

‘Lachen und Weinen’ (Laughter and tears) promised liveliness and joy, but paradoxically epitomised their very brevity. Pauses and silences before doubtful and questioning vocal utterances seemed to render the piano’s light-hearted ornaments dishonest. ‘Du bist die Ruh’ (You are repose) initially intimated the vocal transfiguration that Bostridge can so beguilingly and tenderly offer, but the intensity of the final stanza seemed riven with pain as much as with passion. Similarly, ‘Daß sie hier gewesen!’ (That she was here!) was quizzical rather than certain: shored up with belief and hope, torn down by doubt and fear, each word of the vocal line interrupted by a brief silence. In the final stanza, the duo pulled the rhythm this way and that to trouble us further, and the final repetition of the title line was desperate and fraught, rather than confirmatory.

Finally, ‘Sei mir gegrüßt’ (I greet you): slow, reflective, introspective. Bostridge seemed lost in reverie, head bowed, leaning on the piano. The visions of passion - ‘Sei mir gegrüßt, Sei mir geküßt’ - were not realised by repetition but pushed ever further into the hinterland of dreams. I’m not entirely certain, but I think that Bostridge mis-ordered the text of the final two stanzas, so that we concluded not with the poet’s imagined embrace - ‘I close you in my arms’ - but with the urgency of ‘my soul’s most ardent outpouring’. If so, then the sudden surge of erotic fulfilment was, ironically, welcome.

Bostridge’s interpretations of Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn are familiar from his recent recording and performances with Antonio Pappano . The grotesque, the ironic, the distorted, the empty: such abstracts were just as present here, but I felt that Drake’s encompassment of a spectrum of ‘orchestral’ colours, as well as his ability to play the same small motif with infinite variety of nuance and emphasis, made, paradoxically, the bitterness both more bracing and more bearable, the human breath more tangible, than on the occasion I heard Bostridge sing these songs in the Barbican Hall.

In ‘Revelge’ (Reveille) the piano growled but was never ponderous, despite the ferocity of some of the left hand’s leaping, martial fourths. The shocking image, ‘My comrades strewn so thick, Lie like mown grass on the ground’, unleased God’s thunder from the keyboard. Bostridge twisted through the torturous ‘tralalees’, brazenly facing the audience, daring us to flinch. He flagellated us with the image of the marchers passing the drummer’s sweetheart’s house, pounding us with her vision of his bones at the head of a human tombstone, ‘Daß sie ihn sehen kann’ (That she may see him there).

Bostridge’s energy then seemed spent, burnt up by anger. ‘Wo die schönene Trompeten blasen’ (Where the beautiful trumpets blow’) was searching, at times gently penetrative - as when the nightingale mourns the lovers’ future loss. But there was a sharp bite in the piano’s martial motifs and Bostridge’s piercing stare at the close - when the departing soldier speaks with love of the ‘home of green turf’ to which he will return’ - again dared us to look away. By this point, Drake’s grotesque trills in ‘Der Tamboursg’sell’ (The drummer boy) were almost too much to bear, and the anger spilled over into the pained vocal cries as the drummer walked towards the gallows: ‘Weil I weiß, daß I g’hör dran’ (For I know what you mean to me). As the marching motifs pushed the boy towards his death, so Drake’s languorous trills tugged him back: the tension was painful. At the close there was only death: ‘Gute Nacht’. In the silence and stillness of the Maltings, it seemed no one dared to breath … until Julius Drake stood, necessarily drawing us, and Bostridge, back to the land of the living.

A connection to the Schubert of the start of the recital was established when we heard four of Mahler’s Rückert settings. The carefree circular meanderings of Mahler’s wayfarer in ‘Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft’ (I breath a gentle fragrance!) bring him to the Lindenbaum - Bostridge’s voice seemed both to cleanse the air and bear aloft the scent of bracing lime - but this is a very different point of arrival to the turning-point which Schubert’s wanderer must confront in Winterreise. The re-ordering of Mahler’s cycle must have been intended to create a new narrative, but while I could not quite discern this, it did not matter: each song thrived on its own terms. ‘Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder!’ (Do not look into my song!) was urgent: a representation of creativity both fervent and feverish. With ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’ (If you love for beauty) we were restored to the paradoxically consoling restless sehnsucht of a Schubert lied. This is the painful beauty that Bostridge can evoke, for me, like no other singer. At the close he seemed overcome: ‘Liebe mich immer, dich lieb’ ich immerdar.’ (Love me forever, I’ll love you evermore.) He turned away from us, carried elsewhere, inwards.

‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’. I am lost to the world. This is the first line of Mahler’s third Rückert song, which followed, unbearably poignant. Quite simply the vocal beauty, the enchantment of the melismas, the magic of Drake’s postlude carried me - and, I’m sure, many in the Maltings - far away too.

Between these two Romantic ‘pillars’ lay the ‘modern Romanticism’ of Hans Werner Henze. Bostridge and Drake first met Henze at Snape Maltings in 1996, when they were performing three of Henze’s settings of W.H. Auden in celebration of the composer’s 70th birthday. Bostridge described their first encounter in an article in The Guardian ten years later, explaining that following their performance Henze offered to write a new song cycle for him: the result was the 45-minute Sechs Gesänge aus dem Arabischen which the duo premiered at Wigmore Hall in 1999. The songs set Henze’s own texts, excepting the final invocation to the moon by the 14th-century Persian poet, Hafiz, as translated by Rückert.

These songs may be challenging for the listener unfamiliar with their sophisticated poetic, philosophical and musical arguments, and with Henze’s attention-demanding idiom, but they offer an immersive, entrancing depth and range of colour, emotion and dramatic mood. Bostridge and Drake gave us just two of the songs. The fourth, ‘Cäsarion’ (Caesarion), tells of the sailor Selim, whose sea journey has been a struggle of epic, Shakespearian dimensions as love and war, man and nature tussle for power and survival. Drake and Bostridge graphically, and grippingly, depicted the storm without and within, the vocal and pianistic rhetoric by turns grand and turbulent, tormented and resigned, as Selim, lured by the witches’ song and tossed by the waves, lands naked, stretched out on the shore, ‘a ladies’ man, laid low by the sea voyage’.

Delivering the virtuosic storm-painting with enviably calm control, Drake relished the piano’s startling contrasts, and technical and expressive demands. And, to counter the theatrical oratory - including yelps and growls - which Bostridge delivered with his back curved, shoulders hunched, his chin pressing onto his chest, there was tenderness. An unaccompanied vocal passage looked beyond the earth, star-ward, as the sailor-narrator’s thoughts followed the ‘lines inscribed by God in his network of veins’. Bostridge submerged himself in the mystical, recounted the narrative and lived the theatrical. At times the vocal line seemed improvisatory, elsewhere more declamatory; but always fervent, often incantatory. During the long piano postlude, the tenor stared into the depths of the piano’s body, as the powerful resonances of the final, towering, pressing chords faded into infinity, the overtones and harmonics slowly dissolving until the essential fifth and then single tone were all that remained as haunting impressions on the surface of the silence.

The final song, ‘Das Paradies’, offered peace, of a kind, with its repetitions and regularities and gentler idiom. But, the insistent refrain, ‘reich mir die Hand’ (give me your hand), possesses its own conflicts - ‘Komm,dass ich dich fasse, reich mir deine Hand’: my and your, desperation and deliverance - just as the unornate vocal line is hectored by the piano’s rhapsodising. Bostridge managed to conjure a serenity that was paradoxically riven with sadness: not so much a Wagnerian anti-resolution, as a Mahlerian denial of despair through a redemption by love.

And so, there was a purposefulness at the close, a reaching for the sublime - both within grasp and unattainable - as Bostridge issued a quasi-falsetto plea to the moon: ‘I clamber up to your castle, fair moon,/let me pale before you. Come, come, give me your hand.’ In the aforementioned Guardian article, Bostridge describes this final song as ‘a sort of letting-go … the song itself has an extraordinary air of transcendence’. As I drove home from Snape Maltings, through the unlit roads of Suffolk, the waning moon hung low - a sagging, watery pendant in the black sky, a shimmering pink blush. Otherworldly and divine.

Claire Seymour

Ian Bostridge (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)

Schubert - song settings of poetry by Rückert; Henze - ‘Cäsarion’ and ‘Das Paradies’ from Sechs Gesänge aus dem Arabischen; Mahler - songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn and Rückert Lieder

Snape Proms, Snape Maltings, Suffolk; Tuesday 20th August 2019.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):