WOLF: Lieder – Ian Bostridge, tenor/ Antonio Pappano, piano – EMI

by | Dec 8, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

WOLF: Lieder – Ian Bostridge, tenor/ Antonio Pappano, piano – EMI 0946 3 42256 2 5, 71:37 ***:

I have been struggling to determine why I am not more impressed with this album. EMI provides trademark clear, warm sound, and the balances are exemplary. The three sections of lieder by Eichendorff, Morike, and Goethe are very well selected, with probing and character laden suggestion at their heart; the contrast in material is excellent; and no one would doubt the commitment of the artists to the composer. It will no doubt get rave reviews from everywhere.

So what is the problem?

Call it half a problem. Where the declamatory utterances of Bostridge are paramount, and the lyrics most suggestive and dramatic, he is at his best. Fiery, robust, consummate storytelling, easily supported by these particular songs, especially the last few Morike and both Goethe settings (like ‘Gebet’ and ‘Abschied’), can hardly be imagined more vividly. But in some of the more subtle settings his voice and inflections are too contrived, too cutesy, and too condescending for my taste. Don’t get me wrong—I adore expressive singing, and far too often a recital is plagued by inexpressive declamation and woeful involvement by the artists. But Bostridge is trying to give Wolf what he doesn’t need—soul. In the interesting notes, Bostridge tells us of his first exposure to Wolf, Barbra Streisand in her 70s Classical Barbra album. Evidently it made a great impression on him, and he remains convinced that the vocal styles of the great popular singers should be borrowed by classical singers as well when needed, and applied accordingly. I am a huge Streisand fan, and had the Classical Barbra album too, and couldn’t stand it. If this is the model for his subsequent Wolf approach, then perhaps my problems originate with his fundamental understanding of the composer.

Wolf, known for the Italian Serenade, his many lieder, and not much else, is sung by every singer worth his or her salt. His songs are the equal of the greatest of the greatest composers, and one may argue that his word setting surpassed Schubert and Schumann. If this is so, then his songs need even less tinkering than those masters. Here we seem to have a case of overkill.

But I cannot dismiss this, for Bostridge is one of our stars-a-comin’, and even when sailing on the lesser waves, he still has much to say here that is profitable and enjoyable. But when you return to the likes of Fischer-Dieskau (who went through the entire Wolf corpus), you begin to understand what may be missing, and what is there that shouldn’t be. Antonio Pappano proves himself a worthy accompanist, solid and supportive, an exceptional outing.

— Steven Ritter