Schubert Liederabende, Wigmore Hall

We began with five settings of Ernst Konrad Schulze. A tormented dreamer,
Schulze delved into the world of folklore and
, reportedly remarking of himself, “I lived in a fantasy world and
was on the way to becoming a complete obsessive.” The same might be said of
his unrequited devotion to the sisters Adelheid and C‰cilie Tyschen which
inspired the hundred poems of the Poetisches Tagebuch (Verse Diary),
in which the volatile Schulze poured out his passion.

The impact of the early death of C‰cilie can perhaps be felt in ‘Im
Fr¸hling’ which depicts the poet-speaker’s love for an unattainable
beloved. The hushed opening — Drake’s gentle quavers delivered with the
merest touch of hesitant restraint — established a whimsical air, fitting for
the nostalgic recollections which followed. Bostridge sang with tender fluency,
but there was an ever-present intimation of unrest — moments of earnestness
in stanza three when the poet imagines plucking a flower from a branch from
which she has picked a bud, urgent off-beats in the minor key stanza,
slightly unsettling rhythmic asymmetry in the final verse — which could not
be quite assuaged by the beautiful shine that the tenor brought to the
concluding wistful reminiscence: ‘Den ganzen Sommer lang.’

‘‹ber Wildemann’ was more turbulent, driven by obsessive love and the
poet’s exuberant response to the mountain vista before him. The contained
violence of Drake’s pulsing accompaniment was unnerving, left hand octaves
and pounding triplets never overwhelming the voice. Bostridge made much of the
contrast between the low register of the opening verse and the poet’s
enraptured reflections on the natural beauty of his surroundings. Above
Drake’s delicately shimmering starry reflections, the broad phrases of ‘Der
liebliche Stern’ were wonderfully mellifluous and the pianissimo close
magically floated, translating the poet deep into imaginative realms: ‘Dem
lieblichen Sterne mich nah’n!’ (Let me draw near to that lovely star!)

‘I have lost all peace of mind’ (‘Ich bin von aller Ruh geschieden’)
mourns the poet in ‘Tiefes Leid (Im J‰nner 1817)’, and Bostridge did
indeed seem almost overwhelmed by the depth of the speaker’s sorrow. The
piano’s withdrawn dynamic at the start of the final verse created a troubled
expectancy; the tenor used the text with characteristic rhetorical
judiciousness to convey the chasm between the poet’s suffering and the
beloved’s silence. Drake brought clarity and spaciousness to the
moto perpetuo of ‘Auf der Br¸cke’, (On the bridge), and
stylishly articulated the details embedded in the accompaniment, such as the
low trill which hints at the young maidens’ twinkling eyes. Bostridge’s
wide-ranging phrases spoke of the poet’s confidence although the climactic
rise in the final verse suggested underlying disquiet and doubt.

Schubert’s settings of two of Johann Mayrhofer’s ‘Heliopolis’ poems
followed. The low unison between voice and piano at the start of the first song
perfectly captured the cold stillness of the ‘rauhen Norden’ (raw north),
before a wonderfully consoling blossoming with the move to the major tonality
upon the poet’s vision of the flower. Bostridge’s lyricism beautifully
conveyed the speaker’s honest simplicity, supported by Drake’s steady
crotchets, at times sensitively enriched. After the brief rhythmic fury and
heroic energy of ‘Heliopolis II’, ‘Abendbilder’ (Nocturne) painted a
broader dramatic canvas, from the gentle, breezy undulations of Drake’s
opening triplets, to the elegance of the nocturnal raven’s flight through
fragrant airs, to the rhapsodic outpouring of Philomel’s magic song. Drake
led us through the night-time land, from tolling bells to starry skies; there
was a certain weariness in the inevitable return to the opening melody,
underpinned by the diminished harmony of the piano’s rocking triplets. Tenor
and pianist mastered the technical and interpretative challenges of the final
verse, Bostridge exhibiting impressive control through the extremely long lines
and Drake convincingly delivering the declamatory postlude.

This haunting intimation of mortality at eventide was followed by just a
single verse of the intimate ‘Ins stille Land’ (To the land of rest) which
perfectly expressed the Sehnsucht that Schubert instructs.
‘Totengr‰bers Heimweh’ (Gravedigger’s longing) brought the first half to
a close. Nicolaus Craigher de Jachelutta’s somewhat melodramatic poem
describes a gravedigger increasingly seduced by the lure of the burial places
he digs for others. But, while there was force and anger in Bostridge’s
frustrated cries at the start, there was no undue exaggeration in the
performer’s depiction of mental distress and decline. The weaving semiquavers
of the second stanza were skilfully controlled, the mood first elegiac then
more restless and exposed. Drake’s transition to the slower third stanza was
eerie, an apt prelude to the mysterious, mournful unison which follows, the
latter disturbed by the piano’s rustling ornaments. As the gravedigger’s
energy gradually dissipated, Bostridge increasingly withdrew: indeed, so
introspective was his longing for release — ‘O Heimat des Friedens,/ Der
Seligen Land!’ (O homeland of peace, land of the blessed!) — that there was
a rare rhythmic error which Drake subtly resolved. A remarkably hushed sense of
heavenly yearning infused the arcing lines, the piano’s diminished harmonies
suggesting an unearthly transmutation. Bostridge’s final cries had an
uncanny, sweet lightness; the extreme registral contrasts of the piano postlude
evoked the expanse between man and celestial realms.

We returned to the mountaintop after the interval, with ‘Auf der
Riesenkoppe’ in which the poet Theodor Kˆrner reflects with pride on the
highest peak in the Riesengebirge range. Bostridge and Drake were suitably
operatic in approach to the song’s dramatic contrasts of mood and manner, the
concluding verse possessing an especially translucent beauty reflecting the
‘sacred longing’ with which the homeward-bearing poet is seized. Two
R¸ckert settings, ‘Sei mir gegr¸sst’ (I greet you!), and ‘Dafl sie hier
gewesen’ (That she was here), were among the highpoints of the evening. The
soporific sway of Drake’s introduction to the first song built persuasively
and progressively to the vehement yearning of the conclusion: ‘Ich halter
dich dieses Arms Umschlusse’ (I hold you closely in my arms). The almost
imperceptible pianissimo of the second song conveyed the pain of
absence and elusiveness, while Bostridge’s eloquent declamation brought
expressive structure to Schubert’s fragmented lines culminating in a
soothingly warm cantabile at the reassuring ending.

The well-known ‘Die Forelle’ (The trout) had a delightfully swaggering
lilt, while the strophic ‘Des Fischers Liebesgl¸ck’ (The fisherman’s
luck in love) communicated the emotional complexity and range of Leitner’s
verse, the successive verses moving from glimpses of hope to blissful
fulfilment. Drake’s attention to detail did much to convey the narrative,
while Bostridge demonstrated excellent control of breath and security at the
top. ‘Fischerweise’ (Fisherman’s song) was a rare moment of unambiguous
ease, the hearty energy of the counterpoint and busy accompaniment conveying
the cheerful ebullience of the working fishermen.

‘Atys’, the first of three more Mayrhofer settings, returned us to more
sombre territory. Inspired by Catullus, the poem depicts the tragedy of the
eponymous shepherd who, abducted by the goddess Cybele longs to return to his
homeland and, in despair, throws himself to his death from the top of Dindymus,
the mountain of the goddess. Bostridge and Drake struck a plaintive note in
this reticent song, the accompaniment dreamily rocking, the vocal line softly
swooning. The recitative-like central section injected agitated drama; here
Bostridge demonstrated his impressive vocal range, while the ensuing chromatic
wanderings showed a sure intonation. Drake’s long postlude was a superb
delineation of the composer’s intense emotional engagement with this strange
myth. ‘Nachtviolen’ (Dame’s violets) possessed a more simple elegance;
‘Geheimnis’ (A secret) effortlessly passed through the evolving melodies,
Drake’s ornamentations evoking a Mozartian grace.

The pictorial and prophetic vastness of Schubert’s setting of Friedrich
von Schlegel’s ‘Im Walde’ brought the recital to an imposing end. Full of
tension and surprise, the song was richly suggestive of the diversity of the
forest’s mysteries, but always propelling forwards, swept onwards by
Drake’s unceasing semiquaver flow. Bostridge revealed the operatic vivacity
of Schubert’s writing for the voice, ever responsive to the nuances of the
arioso qualities of the melody and the sensitive text-setting. The boldness of
this song was thrilling. Often in this recital Bostridge’s voice took on a
baritonal quality as the lieder roved through the lower realms of the tenor’s
range; here the plummeting lines — ‘Tief in dunkler Waldesnacht’ (deep in
the dark night of the forest) — matched the woodland’s shadowy depths. This
most astonishing of Schubert’s longer songs was a fitting conclusion to a
programme of audaciousness and commitment.

Claire Seymour

Performers and programme:

Ian Bostridge, tenor; Julius Drake, piano. Wigmore Hall, London,
Thursday 22nd May 2014.

Schubert: ‘Im Fr¸hling’, ‘‹ber Wildemann’, ‘Der liebliche
Stern’, ‘Tiefes Leid (Im J‰nne 1817)’, ‘Auf der Br¸cke’,
‘Heliopolis I & II’, ‘Abendbilder’, ‘Lied (Ins stille Land)’,
‘Totengr‰bers Heimweh’, ‘Auf der Riesenkoppe’, ‘Sei mir
gegr¸sst’, ‘Dafl sie hier gewesen’, ‘Die Forelle’, ‘Des Fischers
Liebesgl¸ck’, ‘Fischerweise’, ‘Atys’, ‘Nachtviolen’,
‘Geheimnis’, ‘Im Walde’.

image_description=Ernst Konrad Friedrich Schulze (1789-1817) by Ernst Riepenhausen [Source: Wikipedia]
product_title=Schubert Liederabende, Wigmore Hall
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Ernst Konrad Friedrich Schulze (1789-1817) by Ernst Riepenhausen [Source: Wikipedia]