A Bleak Performance from Bostridge

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United KingdomUnited Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2014 (7) – Mahler, Weill, Britten: IanBostridge & Julius Drake, Queen’s Hall, 12.8.2014 (SRT)


Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Weill: Four Walt Whitman Songs
Britten: Who are these Children?


Ian Bostridge cut a remorselessly bleak figure on the platform today.  That’s appropriate enough, given some of the material he was singing, but it was too limiting for his choice of Mahler songs, and it’s a particular shame when you consider what a great vocal actor he normally is.

He seemed to grimace through the blithely innocent Frühlingsmorgen and he made Erinnerung sound like something nihilistic: the song is about how love awakens songs and vice versa, but Bostridge didn’t seem too happy about the relationship!  Only when playing the Maiden in Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen did he soften a little but the element of wistful hope in the song was almost entirely absent.

The other Wunderhorn songs, were two of Mahler’s darkest anti-war settings (Die Tamboursg’sell and Revelge) so the bitter tone was appropriate here, and it reached a pinnacle in the third of the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, but the lack of light and shade sold the cycle short.  Similarly, the set of songs that Kurt Weill wrote to encourage American involvement in the Second World War were much too polite, for all the capable storytelling, and there wasn’t nearly enough of the necessary Broadway edginess to O Captain! my Captain.

He was on more like home territory in Britten’s Who are these children? which he recorded triumphantly for the Britten centenary year.  It was in this dark landscape that the bleakness of his voice really came into its own, with Soutar’s bitter verses matched by Britten’s ghostly, threatening piano lines, brought vividly to life by Julius Drake, who proved himself to be a more versatile mood painter than Bostridge on this occasion.

The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and can be heard again here.  The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 31st August in venues across the city.  For full details click here.


Simon Thompson



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