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13.5.06

Schubertiade with Andsnes and Bostridge

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Franz Schubert, Piano Sonata (A major, D. 959) and Lieder, Leif Ove Andsnes, Ian Bostridge (released on October 8, 2002)


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Franz Schubert, Piano Sonata (D major, D. 850) and Lieder (poems by Schulze and Schlegel), Leif Ove Andsnes, Ian Bostridge (released on June 10, 2003)


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Franz Schubert, Winterreise, Ian Bostridge, Leif Ove Andsnes (released on September 7, 2004)


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Franz Schubert, Piano Sonata (B-flat major, D. 960) and Lieder, Leif Ove Andsnes, Ian Bostridge (released on February 1, 2005)
Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and English tenor Ian Bostridge like Schubert's music. At the rate of one disc per year for the past four years, EMI has been recording Schubertiade recitals featuring this duo. Jens has mentioned before that their Winterreise is not his favorite. Andrew Clements was not very positive at The Guardian either.

In an interview with Nina Large a few years ago, Bostridge described how he came to work on the Schubert series with Andsnes:
I met him at his Risør Festival in 2000 and found him an incredibly easy person to be with — we were just on the same wavelength. We did Dichterliebe and didn't really have to rehearse very much: he read what I wanted to do and I read what he wanted to do — it just happened, really.

Is it not always that easy?

I think it was a particularly good collaboration — we didn't really have to talk about things, but at the same time I didn't feel like I was having just to give in to somebody else's view of the piece. It was more organic than that.
This belies the charges I have read elsewhere that the two musicians work together for marketing reasons. I have the impression here and in the interview they did for NPR that they have similar aesthetic sensibilities and enjoy working together. It is certainly a pleasure to be able to put in one of these CDs and enjoy a Schubertiade by this pair, especially the combination of one of the late piano sonatas with carefully chosen songs. It gives us some insight, through Andsnes's excellent pianism, into the two main areas in which Schubert himself performed, his own sonatas and accompanying his songs (missing chamber music). Ian Bostridge has one of those voices that not everyone cares for, but I find him an exquisitely sensitive singer in art song.

With someone who died as young as Schubert, it is something of a misnomer to speak of "late piano sonatas," but D. 850 dates from the summer of 1825, just three years before the composer's untimely death. He was on an unforgettable summer vacation with his friend, baritone Michael Vogl, in the Alps near Salzburg, a place called Bad Gastein, which is still a resort town. For this reason, this sonata is sometimes known as the Gasteiner sonata. In the first movement, we are audibly swept along in Schubert's exhilaration at the surroundings, with what sound to me like Alpine horn calls, as well as what many have identified as yodelling. Andsnes is strongest here, with consummate strength and accuracy.

The slow movement, largely homophonic and quite simple, is not as natural for Andsnes and sounds a little square, even in the peppier B section. As the longest movement (12'26" on this recording), it is just too flat on the page. The Scherzo is a nice mixture of sophistication and earthiness in Andsnes' hands, although Schubert's famed melodic genius seems to have failed him in this movement. The fourth movement (Allegro moderato) is probably the most entertaining, with each return of the rondo theme ornamented with those famous Schubert filigrees, played with the requisite delicacy by Andsnes.

D. 850 is not a favorite sonata of mine, I have to admit, and it loses out by comparison to the songs that accompany it on this album. Bostridge has selected three songs set to poems by Ernst Schulze (1789-1817). The imagery used by this poet often reflects his mental state, which was clinically unstable, and Schubert set 11 of his poems including the ones on this disc. The accompaniment of the strophic song Der liebliche Stern (D. 861, 1825) pulses along on Andsnes' piano like the breezes of the night around the lonely watcher looking up at the stars. Schulze's songs, including the former, are often tinged, more or less overtly, with thoughts of suicide. (Looking up at the stars produced a similar fantasy in Vincent Van Gogh.) The same pathology is found in Tiefes Leid (D. 876, 1826), and as in the conclusion of Die Schöne Müllerin, Schubert gives that dark yearning such a sweet melodic shroud. Since 1774, when Goethe published The Sorrows of Young Werther this was the heritage of Romanticism. The best of the Schulze songs is the last one, Auf der Bruck (D. 853, 1825). Its exciting accompaniment, with driving eighth notes, creates the mood of the hurried journey on horseback in the text. Although far less famous than another song about a harrowing equine journey, Der Erlkönig (D. 328, 1815), such a success that Schubert may have sought to find a way to recreate its appeal.

Related Articles:

Robert Siegel, Tenor and Pianist Take on Schubert at Carnegie (NPR/All Things Considered, October 14, 2004)

Nina Large, Interview with Ian Bostridge (Andante, 2002)

Michael Oliver, Schubert: Piano Sonata No. 20; Pilgerweise; Der Unglückliche; Auf dem Strom; Die Sterne (International Record Review, 2002)
The other six songs selected by Bostridge, in a good approach focusing on groups of songs by the same poet, are by the brothers Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829) and August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767-1845). The only song by the latter is Wiedersehn (D. 855, 1825), a sweet tune suited quite nicely to the light, often fragile -- in a good way -- voice of Ian Bostridge. Although Schubert set about the same number of poems from each brother, this disc includes five by Friedrich. Der Wanderer (D. 649) and Fülle der Liebe (D. 854, 1825) present typical subjects -- Wanderlust and the pain of love -- for Schubert, who set the former as a gentle, flowing tune (very effective in this performance) and the latter with a more heroic style of accompaniment. The latter song was composed around the same time as the D. 850 sonata, and it has a similar mood.

The odd song in this assortment is the early Lied Vom Mitleiden Mariae (D. 632, 1818). Friedrich von Schlegel's religious poem is an odd subject for a Schubert song, and the composer gives a sober tribute to J. S. Bach in the spare, contrapuntal setting, almost like a plainchant or chorale setting, complete with walking bass line and adventurous chromatic colorations. The text (As Mary stood by the cross) is a partial paraphrase of the celebrated medieval sequence Stabat mater dolorosa. Waldesnacht (Im Walde) (D. 708) is another song reminiscent of Der Erlkönig with its whirring accompaniment of repeated notes, fast arpeggios, and booming left hand.

This is strongly contrasted by Der Schmetterling (D. 633, c1819), a minute and a half of airy sounds depicting a butterfly flitting in bright colors and sipping the flowers as he wants. That this is an image of seduction is made clear by the line "Ihr könnt sie nicht hüten" (you cannot guard [them]). I am tempted to read the poem's imagery as a description of homosexual pursuit of young "peacocks," to use the phrase that Maynard Solomon focused on in his controversial theory about Schubert's closeted homosexuality. Here the butterfly sips from "Alle kleinen Blüten," or the little blossoms. It's an image that could be read equally as the conquest of girls, of course, as Rita Steblin would point out, that staunch defender of Schubert's heterosexuality. It hardly matters, as the song is a miniature delight. Is this recording essential? Probably not, except for fans of either Andsnes or Bostridge (I am both). It may fill in some lacunae in your Schubert collection, as it contains mostly unusual selections. As a recording of a charming Schubertiade, it is a most pleasing way to spend 70 minutes in the evening.

In April, Leif Ove Andsnes and Ian Bostridge reportedly recorded the next installment of this series of Schubert recitals, joining the C minor sonata (D. 958) with four songs and three song fragments. The duo performed the vocal portion of this program at Carnegie Hall earlier this month: the three parts of Harfenspieler (D. 478-480), Viola (D. 786), and the fragments Du, der ewig um mich trauert (D. 467), Lebensmut (D. 937), and Johanna Sebus (D. 728). The concept was a concert of fragments left incomplete by Schubert. Anthony Tommasini reviewed it for the New York Times (Bostridge and Andsnes Pan Through the Bits and Pieces That Schubert Left Behind, May 9).

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