St. Anthony and his Funny Fishes
Julius Drake, dispensing with the ceremonial showmanship of getting ready for a Liederabend, dove right into Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” after he stepped on stage with Ian Bostridge for an all-Mahler Schubertiade Lieder-afternoon on August 30th. Bostridge, whose face—on stage—looks like a lemon, about to be squeezed against its will, went right along, adding in the process a layer of mannerist strangeness that contributes, in its unique, either-you-like-it-or-you-don’t kind of way to the not-from-this-worldness of Mahler.
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 1 ) • An Introduction
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 2 ) • Prégardien Père et Fils
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 3 ) • Belcea Quartet & Thomas Quasthoff
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 4 ) • Belcea Quartet & Till Fellner
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 5 ) • Diana Damrau & Xavier de Maistre
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 7 ) • Hagen Quartett I
Lied—pretty much regardless of the composer—is certainly art for art’s sake in his long spidery hands—hands that seem to grasp and clutch desperately at the Steinway during his performance from which contortionists could learn a thing or two. But that means they’re also without any pretense of folksiness which avoids a dreadful pitfall. His dramatic exaggerations make sense in the context of Mahler, anguish and torturedness spring right off his personality (or rather the personality of his interpretative act) and unto the audience. Amid the artfully contrived ("Ein glühend Messer"), there are also wonderfully placid episodes, as in the most movingly performed “Die zwei blauen Augen".
Bostridge then handed the Mahler-relay baton to Dorothea Röschmann—and woosh, Bostridge, rather than going backstage to lounge about, sat in the middle of the audience to take in what his colleague was doing with Songs set to Friedrich Rückert poems. Good– and very different things than Bostridge, she did: Cheek and charming light vigor and not at all taking matters too seriously, she was a fine contrast and except for a little, temporary extra edge in her voice after a little memory-glitch, she delivered a musically beautiful (more than dramatic) “Liebst Du um Schönheit” which might, for quibble’s sake, have left more room for scathing notes so as to give its last lines a more poignant pivot from skepticism towards empathetic approval.
Friedrich Rückert, if you happen upon a photo of him in old age (<—), looks like the love child between Frankenstein’s Monster and Franz Liszt. Gives the lines “Liebst Du um Schönheit, nicht Du mich liebe” (“If you love for beauty’s sake, then don’t love me”) a whole new meaning. He was probably safe on that count.
The second half was given to both singers—either alternating stanzas (where it made sense, like in “Der Schildwache Nachtlied”) or whole songs, but none of the daft harmonizing treatment that the Prégardien père & fils evening perpetrated. Bostridge’s German wasn’t, somehow, as hyper-impeccable as it is in Schubert and Bach, but to the extent one could understand what was going on in “St. Anthony of Padua's Sermon to the Fish”, and certainly from the looks of it, it was as funny as it should be.