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Ian Bostridge & Lars Vogt Perform in Berlin

It might come as a surprise to discover that British tenor Ian Bostridge had a whole other life before becoming a full-time singer at the age of 30. After completing a D.Phil in history, he worked in television and current affairs before taking up the position of a post-doctoral fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. But it is perhaps this period spent in the ‘real’ world – or at least having had a life outside of performing – that has given Bostridge his distinctive stage presence. Bostridge is not some distant prodigy who is so used to public attention and adoring fans that he cannot relate to his audiences. For his Monday night concert at the Berlin Philharmonie’s Kammermusiksaal, Bostridge was very much a ‘real’ person, with real emotions to express. It was this that drew us into his intimate world.

But intimacy did not result in any inhibition from Bostridge. It was not only his towering figure that commanded attention, but his freedom of movement. Bostridge felt free to wonder, to look all around the hall, to use his body as an extension of the feelings that the songs expressed. His gestures could have easily fallen into exaggeration, yet he balanced his overt rhetoricism with subtle lyricism.

Schumann’s Liederkreis was written in 1840, and it constitutes 12 settings of poems by Justinus Kerner. With this cycle, Bostridge displayed his incredible versatility as a singer. He could drastically and effortless change volume, and the climax of Stille Tränen rang out powerfully. Meanwhile, he caressed the melody in the lingering Stirb, Lieb’ und Freud!’, allowing the poetry to unfold naturally. Together with attentive pianist Lars Vogt, they took full advantage of pauses. The result was feeling of spontaneity. What we were witnessing was the gradual outpouring of thought. These carefully considered moments – such as the astounding quiet for the words “Hörst du den Vogel singen?” (Can you hear the birds sing?’) in Alte Laute – demanded the audience’s full engagement. And they were rewarded for it. For Bostridge and Vogt transported their listeners to another world.

Six songs by Charles Ives provided a relief between the German lieder of Brahms and Schumann. But Bostridge did not treat them any less enthusiastically. Though a livelier tempo would have lifted it more, Bostridge dove into the jolliness of Memories: Very Pleasant, which included an amusing kazoo solo. Ives’s songs were brief, and with the opening song Wie rafft’ich mich aud in der Nacht from Brahms’s Neun Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 32, we were treated to Bostridge’s lower register, which portrayed a contrasting sinister mood. Brahms’s choice of poetry can occasionally fall into sentimentality. In August von Platen’s Du sprichts, daß ich mich täuschte the speaker childishly bemoans how his lover no longer loves him. But Bostridge treated the poem with utmost sincerity. We believed that the love he expressed was pure.

Robert Schumann Liederkries, Op. 35
Charles Ives Six Songs
Johannes Brahms Neun Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 32

Ian Bostridge tenor
Lars Vogt Piano

I am an arts and culture writer currently based in Berlin. As well as writing for Berlin Logs, I have contributed to The Economist, Fanfare Magazine, and Seen and Heard. Follow me on Twitter: @hazel_rowland. Or visit my blog.

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