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Ian Bostridge/Thomas Adès Recital at Carnegie Hall

By Scott Rose

IAN-popupRichard Termine for The New York Times

The program that tenor Ian Bostridge and composer/pianist Thomas Adès chose for their Carnegie Hall recital this Monday centered on themes of depression, loss of love, and the artist’s alienation from society. At his best, Bostridge enchanted with his elegant blending of words and music, each phrase flowing beguilingly out of the last.

The centerpiece of the recital was Robert Schumann’s song cycle Opus 48, Dichterliebe. The alternately jilted, yearning, bitter, and unhinged lover of the cycle ideally must be portrayed by a singer capable of vividly communicating mood swings without ever emitting an unmusical sound. To be sure, Bostridge emitted no sour tones, and his diction was a model of clarity. Yet, his fundamentally British primness proved to be a barrier to the wide-ranging emotions of these songs. Moreover, Bostridge displayed some quirky vocal mannerisms: at one point, he gave six consecutive notes individual emphases while the score suggests a coherent musical through-line. 

Bostridge’s physical mannerisms were also a bit distracting: grasping the rim of the concert grand, taking strides to the end of the piano, tilting his head downward so that his chin sunk into his chest. Perhaps, were Bostridge to re-prioritize his performance movements for optimal vocal effect, his recitals would be more satisfying. Which is a shame, given his clear and formidable intelligence (he holds a PhD from Oxford.)

Adès’s played with a astonishing combination of color and virtuosity, particularly in his 1992 solo work Darknesse Visible: a variation of John Dowland's In darkness let me dwell (also on the program). György Kurtàg’s Hölderlin: An . . .. was, appositely, strongly evocative of angst-laden eeriness. And he gave a thoughtful, lyrical reading of Franz Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnet No. 123 (from the Années de pèlerinage).

A warmly appreciative public was treated to three encores, including a selection from Adès’s opera The Tempest, which only whetted my appetite for next season’s Met premiere.