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Ian Bostridge (Tenor)
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions


See Ian Bostridge: Short Biography

World of Ian Bostridge

Albie Cabrera
wrote (June 26, 2001):
Just picked this one up last night... it almost doesn't matter what piece he's singing... whether I would still like the song coming out of the mouth of someone else. Bostridge's clarity, pronunciation, enunciation, delivery, and just the timbre of his voice make all he sings a pleasure to hear. Although I do have limited exposure to this field, his intelligence and care MUST place him among the all-time elite singers of lieder.

After listening to this disc, I was reminded of 2 things... how much I dislike this format of recordings, as it is little more than a pop compilation, with little continuity or sense of relevance from piece to piece (anyone less, and I'd be reselling this disc by now)... and also what a magnificent Peter Grimes (probably my favorite English opera) he would make. To me, he is better in the style of Peter Pears than than Peter Pears himself! I've said this before, I know, but this disc just made me want to say it again... Some one back me up here!

Anne Ozorio wrote (June 30, 2001):
[To Albie Cabrera] Certainly you are not alone in your estimation of Ian Bostridge. He is perhaps the most fascinating tenor around today. His is a beautiful, clear voice, with impeccable diction, and he rarely fails to bring lucid intelligence to his interpretations. Moreover, his voice is very distinctive and idiosyncrasic. I don't much go for bland singers, and Bostridge is anything but. He's a specialised taste but very rewarding to those who are prepared to rise to the challenge. The "World of" is a good introduction to his work, and you might want to explore further.

If you like opera, he's particularly good in Britten, although he's sung a lot of Mozart, and recently, Janacek. He's a singer in the English tradition, thus his affinity for Britten is exceptional. But as you say, he's less mannered and more relaxed than Pears, so I find him more accessible.

If you don't want to commit too much yet to opera recordings, you might like to sample his many Lieder recordings - he is a Lieder singer first and foremost. He has a good reputation in Schubert, Schumann and Wolf. His early Schone Mullerin won a Gramophone award some years back and is well regarded. He sings with a vulnerability and slightly neurotic air which is absolutely in keeping with the character of the young miller. His Schwanengesang, which I prefer, brings out the richness in his voice and the elegance of his phrasing, and vies with the best recordings. There's a new Schubert CD out any day now which may be worth seeking out. Of his numerous Britten recordings several are outstanding - my own favourite being the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. He brings an ethereal, other worldly quality to this, enhancing its dream like qualities, bringing out the underlying sense of horror not all interpreters relate to. Similarly his Our Hunting Fathers has a modern, political edge, a lovely contrast to the lyricism of his singing.

Bostridge's individuality can be heard to advantage in Henze's Six Songs from the Arabian. Henze has been writing for voice for 50 years, but when he first heard Bostridge perform he decided that he wanted to write something special that would truly bring out the potential in that amazing voice. Truly this is a virtuoso cycle which challenges the performer, stretching him to his limits. Moreover it's a mysterious, mystical piece: eroticism mixes with brutality, beauty with death, all infused with supernatural, exotic overtones. The challenge is interpretive and emotional, as well, as it's so psychologically complex. There are long, unaccompanied vocal lines which the singer has to shape and colour by sheer subtlety. Henze knew what he was doing, writing for Bostridge, who was an authority on medieval witchcraft when he was at Oxford. This is a landmark recording, which will be a benchmark for years to come.

There's a website, which is an delightful, warm hearted read, and also a Bostridge-List. If you'd like any further information, I'd be glad to help.

Donald Satz wrote (July 1, 2001):
< Anne Ozorio writes: He is perhaps the most fascinating tenor around today. >
I don't doubt that at all. Anna goes on to mention how well Bostridge sings Britten, Mozart, and the lieder of Schubert, Schumann, and Henze. I just wanted to add that Bostridge is also superb in Bach and the baroque repertoire in general. His voice is a magnificent instrument that seems to be able to do whatever Bostridge requires of it. I consider him the leading current tenor in the world.

Ian Crisp wrote (July 3, 2001):
< My old sparring partner Don Satz writes of Ian Bostridge: I consider him the leading current tenor in the world. >
Some years ago, while I was living in Scotland, I heard him in the Australian Opera production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Edinburgh Festival, and a few weeks later I sat in the Tramway in Glasgow, only a few feet away from him as he sang the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings.

Since those two performances, I have not doubted that he is a very exceptional singer, and a very fine musician as well. He deserves far greater recognition, and I expect that he will eventually get it.

Nicholas J. Roberts wrote (July 3, 2001):
I agree - his JSB is magnificent - makes it sound so easy

PS Just ordered the Henze recording Bostridge has done - sounds fascinating

Bostridge in Bach

Teri Noel Towe wrote (August 31, 2002):
< Steven Langley Guy wrote: I am not attracted to thought of him singing Bach. >
How sad!

As far as I am concerned, the disc of Bach tenor Cantatas and arias that he recorded with Fabio Biondi is one of my "desert island" records. Few have equalled and no one has bettered Bostridge in the interpretation and the presentation of this ineffable repertory.

I, for one, certainly hope and pray that he records much more of this repertory.

My best and my thanks always,

PS: For what little it may be worth, I gave Bostridge's Virgin Classics disc 5 stars in my review for Goldberg.

Olle Hedström wrote (August 31, 2002):
[To Teri Noel Towe] What recording of tenor cantatas with Bostridge/Biondi ???

Teri Noel Towe wrote (August 31, 2002):
[To Olle Hedström] It is a Virgin Classics disc. And it is wonderful.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (August 31, 2002):
[To Olle Hedström] This one :

BTW, Biondi uses a flute instead of the oboe in BWV 82. Is it a "musical freedom" from him or there is an alternative score?

Teri Noel Towe wrote (September 1, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] There is an alternative version, for soprano and flute, that Bostridge and Biondi use as the basis for their spectacular interpretation.

Donald Satz wrote (September 1, 2002):
[To Teri Noel Towe] I also think that Bostridge is a special singer. His voice is perfection to me and its range is mighty impressive.

Lalis Ivan wrote (September 1, 2002):
I find his Evangelist on Herreweghe's recording of Matthaeus-Passion (BWV 244) to be very good. But I think Evangelist's role is quite ungrateful for singing - when sung well nobody notices, but when sung a bit wrong everybody knows :-)

He also sang Evangelist in Rattle's Johannes-Passion (Quasthoff, Banse, Chance, Trost) and he was excellent there, too.

I'd say, give me more Bach with Bostridge.

Bostridge, ideal as Evangelist in the Passions?

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 11, 2002):
Since Ian Bostridge's recent recording of Bach cantatas and arias has been discussed here for the past two weeks, I felt that a November 10th article in the Arts section of the New York Times might be of interest to list members.

My only question here is: Who are the 'experts' whconsider Bostridge's voice well-suited for the Evangelist parts in the Bach passions?

Actually, as the Michael White points out: Bostridge, at one time in his career, did not want 'to get sucked into' singing Bach.

As I write this, I am listening to Bostridge singing a Schubert song on WFMT. (Pure coincidence!) There is also something standing between me and the music here as well. Perhaps I am overly critical, but somehow Bostridge's voice and his manner of singing do not speak to me directly. Of course, Peter Pears, to whom Bostridge refers in this article, singing German Lieder only amplifies these disturbing aspects (Bostridge calls them mannerisms) even more; yet, when Pears sings Britten, it is a different story, just as Bostridge himself acknowledges.

Another interesting point: In my last commentary on Gardiner's choir sound, I was trying to find the appropriate words to describe what is different about this sound. This article, in describing the opinions that others have regarding Bostridge's voice, amplifies some of the differences that I was beginning to discern:
"...too conspicuously English, which is to say strong on intelligence, commitment, diction and musicality though weak in texture, color and projection. Light and thin, it offers flexibility rather than possibility."

Here is the article:

A Voice for Some Seasons, but Some Voice!

In December 1993, London concertgoers witnessed a performance of Berlioz's "Troyens" that turned out to be one of those defining "I was there, weren't you?" events. One thing people still talk about is the memory of a pale, young, pitifully undernourished-looking tenor singing Hylas. (Just to see him was to want to offer him a sandwich.)
Hylas is a small role, but its single aria comes spotlighted; and on this occasion it was unforgettable, because the tenor seized his moment with a voice of disturbing, haunted beauty. Half the audience, not least the critics, fumbled for their programs. Who was he? No one knew the name.
Yet within a short time, all of London seemed to know the name of Ian Bostridge. Since then, he has become established as perhaps the most distinctive, certainly the most confronting and intense, of current British tenors, and what that means can be heard at Avery Fisher Hall beginning on Thursday, when he sings "Les Illuminations," by Benjamin Britten, with the New York Philharmonic under Colin Davis.
Not that everybody likes the voice. For some, it's too conspicuously English, which is to say strong on intelligence, commitment, diction and musicality though weak in texture, color and projection. Light and thin, it offers flexibility rather than possibility. It is ideal for the Evangelist in a Bach Passion but for nothing heavier than Mozart in the opera house.
Some, too, find it bloodless. Worse still, sexless — a complaint that clearly exercises the marketers at EMI Classics, Mr. Bostridge's record company, to judge from their exertions when I asked them to set up an interview.
Mr. Bostridge lives an easy walk from me in the north London suburbs, where he lives a bookish existence with his bookish wife, Lucasta, a literary editor. But at EMI's insistence, we met in the penthouse suite of a chic central London hotel, where I found him being photographed beside a massive bed and looking uncomfortable about it. At 37, tall, gaunt and with the mop-haired English public school looks of Hugh Grant (on a diet), he is not an obvious sex symbol. But to his quiet satisfaction (I think), he has acquired a certain extramusical following. His Web site ( is besieged by messages from teenage girls. And a British magazine recently included him in a list of the most lusted-after classical stars, although his rating was an equivocal 6 out of 10.
He cringed when I raised the subject.
"Well, it's nonsense and embarrassing, but also quite nice to have overcome one of the standard preconceptions about my singing, which is that because my voice is relatively light, it isn't sensual," he said. "It annoys me the way people make short-circuit connections. `Ian Bostridge was an academic, therefore he's an intellectual singer, therefore his performance is this.' Or, `He's thin and fragile-looking, therefore his voice is that.' And I've always been wary of the English thing, because `English' can be a dirty word in singing. It suggests emotional confinement and insularity, which is really not me.
"First and foremost, I'm a German lieder singer. That's always been my great love, ever since I was at school and discovered Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. I wanted to sing Schubert's `Winterreise' and `Schöne Müllerin,' and I did, recklessly, as a schoolboy, although never assuming I'd be able to do it for real."
In fact, it took a long while before he committed to a career in singing, and he did so only after an extended stay in academia. Born into a professional London family on Christmas Day 1964, he passed through Westminster School and on to Oxford, then Cambridge, earning successive degrees in history. His doctoral thesis was on the decline of witchcraft in England, a choice that confirmed a certain maverick particularity of character.
Possessed of a fine natural voice, he might have tried for an Oxbridge choral scholarship. He didn't, nor did he try to enter a conservatory. He merely sang in whatever moments he had free from academic study, which was still his chief pursuit at the time of that memorable 1993 "Troyens."
"I hadn't decided then to be a full-time singer," he said, "but I had an agent who got me small but visible bits of work. For someone with no formal musical training, that was lucky, and I do sometimes wonder what I missed by never going to a conservatory. But music for me is about feeling, not about diminished-seventh chords. It's an infusion of literary and imaginative issues. Some conservatory-trained singers come out with peerless techniques I could never approach, others don't. It's not a determining factor in a career."
Prevaricating still about his future, in 1994 he joined a production of Britten's "Midsummer Night's Dream," which had come from Australia to play at the Edinburgh Festival. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, it drew wide attention. And lest anyone fail to notice Mr. Bostridge in the role of Flute, Mr. Luhrmann made him take off his shirt. He was so thin that people in the audience gasped. From then on, witchcraft cast no further spell. He was a dedicated singer.
With so light a voice, he soon got work with the early-music conductors William Christie and John Eliot Gardiner, but he didn't want to get sucked into that world. His goal was lieder. And despite his manager's warning that he could never expect to base a career on song recitals, he did so. With a vengeance.
The accompanist Graham Johnson made him one of the star contributors to an encyclopedic Schubert song series on Hyperion records (coached, incidentally, by Mr. Fischer-Dieskau). Then EMI signed him. Invitations to Vienna, Salzburg and the other citadels of German lieder followed.
Now he ranks with the baritone Matthias Goerne as pre-eminent among the younger artists in the genre, lauded for his clarity of diction, purity of sound, response to text and soul-baring conviction. In the razor-sharp recital culture, which requires artists to exhibit themselves vulnerable and naked onstage, Mr. Bostridge takes the vulnerability to an extreme. The pain of loss and loneliness that underpins the lieder repertory is delivered physically, like an electric current.
"You can't stand there singing prettily," he said. "You have to seize the audience and not let go until you leave the stage. You have to burn. If you don't, it's a waste of time. Why bother?"
Most of the techniques of seizure come from Mr. Fischer-Dieskau. "And I'm happy to admit it," Mr. Bostridge said, "because there's no reason to be scared of the legacy of recorded sound. However hard you listen and learn from other people, you're left with your own voice, so it's going to end up as you. I see no problem there."
But he do't claim to have learned much from that other English lieder singer Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten's longtime companion. "I guess I find him mannered," Mr. Bostridge said, "although it's a different matter when he sings Britten. I certainly haven't avoided his example there."
The Britten song cycles have been critical to Mr. Bostridge's career, especially on disc. The Britten operas have been useful, too, and the many Bostridge CD's that have appeared of late include a superb "Turn of the Screw" for EMI/Virgin, based on a Covent Garden production in which he sang Quint under the direction of Deborah Warner.
Because of the particularity of his voice (with Mr. Bostridge, there is no escaping the word "particular"), his approach to opera has always been custom-made. "I can't just turn up and be compelling on three days' rehearsal in more or less any music, like Domingo," he said. "I'm not that kind of star, with that kind of voice or that kind of acting."
He chooses carefully, preferably with support from someone he feels close to. Ms. Warner is the closest, and he is a sharp defender of the mystifyingly pretentious Janacek "Diary of One Who Vanished" she staged for him a few years ago in London and New York: a production that had him rolling around under the piano for no apparent reason.
"Deborah's work isn't about putting things on stage that can necessarily be analyzed and understood," he said. "And that's good for someone like me, from an intellectual background where meaning is everything. It's good to find things happening intuitively, without being able to put your finger on what's going on. I like that."
He must also like the resistant-to-analysis fact that in the face of a declining record market, in which even the biggest classical stars are making fewer discs, he is making more than ever. That batch of recent releases amounts to an astonishing six since the beginning of summer. And the latest heralds Mr. Bostridge's entry into crossover: "The Noël Coward Songbook," an odd choice for a singer who doesn't want to be defined as English.
"Well, I did hem and haw about it for ages," he said, "partly because I was worried it would turn out camp and partly because I'm never sure about crossover. It's usually too sung, by divas who can't switch their voices off. With Noël Coward that's a real issue, because he ended up almost speaking the songs. But if you hear the earlier recordings from the 30's, he does sing them, with a heady, falsetto-mix voice. So I sing them, too, although I haven't tried to sound like him."
So much the better. Coward's songs have never sounded quite so beautiful. But they have never sounded so committed, either, and commitment isn't necessarily what's called for here. This songbook may be one release in which Mr. Bostridge's most celebrated virtue works against him.
New York Times (Arts) Nov. 10, 2002

Ian Bostridge: Short Biography | General Discussions

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