When you can match Franz Schubert’s genius with British tenor Ian Bostridge’s supreme artistry, a lieder recital becomes an event not to be missed.
A near-capacity crowd got to experience the real thing Sunday afternoon at Union College’s Memorial Chapel as part of the Union College Concert Series.
The program was Schubert’s setting of 24 of Wilhelm Mueller’s poems that Schubert titled “Winterreise” (1827).
The subject matter revolved around death and lost love through a wintry landscape, with Mueller evoking loneliness, vain hope and painful memory, often with images of a lone crow, a linden tree, a weathervane, an inn or an organ grinder. Schubert turned each poem turned into lyrically descriptive works of art.
Although his writing was spare, it was precise, evocative and always note perfect.
Bostridge, who has sung this cycle for more than 25 years around the world, inhabited each song in an intense, focused and emotional way.
Every note had meaning. His casual manner of leaning against the piano or walking about a bit made the songs like little stories.
His voice was rich and resonant with a dark, almost baritone-like timbre. His lower range growled and rumbled, his top notes soared.
His phrases were fluid and even, rising or falling depending on the dynamic he chose, and he used vibrato as a color.
Schubert seemed to have laid his lines well, so taking a breath was an effortless task. Silence and pacing were used to allow a song’s shape to settle. Bostridge’s German was immaculate.
The piano part provided each song’s setting. Pianist Wenwen Du was, in Bostridge’s word, “amazing.” She matched him note for note in perfect balance. She was always there, which allowed him to do whatever he wanted. The crowd gave them both several curtain calls.
After the concert, Fred Child, the host of American Public Media’s Performance Today, who had flown in from St. Paul for the concert, chatted amiably with Bostridge about the singer’s book, “Winter’s Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession,” about the Schubert cycle and the role of the piano in the songs; the meanings of some of the words in the text; and Mueller’s life.
Bostridge talked with humor and charm. A question- and-answer session followed, and then Bostridge signed copies of his book.