Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès at Carnegie Hall: Dusting off Romanticism

What happens when a brilliant Lied performer is accompanied by a foremost composer? Well, something unique. Last Monday, Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès were giving a joint recital at Carnegie that felt like a 21st century Schubertiade.

The first half spanned over four centuries and was entirely performed attacca, placing the Dichterliebe (the pièce de résistance of the evening) in an aesthetic and emotional pan-European continuum. The evening started with In darkness let me dwell, an English song by John Downland. Although usually accompanied by a lute, this lament kept its sense of intimacy and introspection intact thanks to Adès’s sensible piano accompaniment. Bostridge’s clear and velvety timbre fits this repertoire (often performed by countertenors) perfectly with more colors than the usual straight tone.

Ian Bostridge – Photo by Simon Fowler

The piece was immediately followed by Darkness Visible, Adès’s personal take on Dowland’s song. Written for solo piano, Darknesse Visible is a both a precise exploration of the melodic and harmonic DNA of the song, and a complete implosion. Shimmering inner voices are surrounded by bell-like sonorities on both extremes of the piano range. The exciting idea behind Darknesse Visible is that, according to the composer, “no notes have been added”, although some have been removed…

Bostridge came back to the front of the stage to perform Hörderlin: Ann… a song by Gÿorgy Kurtág on poetry by Johann Friedrich Holderlin (a contemporary of Heine)—an angular link in the chain that tied all the pieces of the first half. The piece bended even further the notion of time in this kaleidoscopic first half by using Romantic poetry set to sprechstimme.

Finally, the bitter sweet arpeggios of Im wunderschönen Monat Mai from Schumann’s Dichterliebe were heard and Bostridge proved, once again, that he is one of the best Lied performers on the international stage. The program notes for the evening reminded the audience that, for Schumann, the pianist was almost acting as a catalyst for the singer’s emotions. In Adès’s case, though, one could almost wonder if the situation was not out of balance. Indeed, on many songs, tempi were surprisingly slow like in this dragging Ich grolle nicht or incredibly fast (Die Rose, die Lilie). Adès’s take on dynamics was also very personal, and the piano was generally very quiet, even on the massive Im Rhein.

Thomas Adès – Photo by Maurice Foxall

The second half, although more traditional and deeply rooted in Romanticism, featured some gems. Adès opened with a brilliant interpretation of  Petrarch Sonnet No. 123, from Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, a perfect introduction to three rarely (Schade!) performed Liszt songs: Es muss ein Wunderbares sein, Im Rhein, in schönen Strome and Ihr Glocken von Marling. The fact that one of the songs was set on the same Heine text that Schumann used in his Dichterliebe provided an interesting perspective on the two composers’s interpretations of the poetry. Indeed, Liszt’s Im Rhein… focused more on the liquid element and less on the majesty of the Rhine. The program was closed by a selection of six songs from Schubert’s Schwanengesang.

Beyond the first-class musicianship of both Bostridge and Adès, the clever and organic inclusion of pieces from different eras (in the first half only) was really one of the strongest points of this program and one could wish that more classical concerts were curated this way.

Thomas Deneuville, the founder and editor of I care if you listen, is a French-born composer living in NY. Find him on Twitter: @tonalfreak