Ian Bostridge's latest recording of Schubert's "Die schone Mullerin" (with Mitsuko Uchida) is an amazing achievement. No one is better able to express the child-like wonder that characterizes the protagonist of this song cycle. Talking to a brook, hearing the singing of the water-nymphs, turning to nature in both joy and sorrow is a way of life, which has come to be associated with poets or lovers, but which in reality should be part of our everyday experiencing, had we not deviated so sharply from our normal course of spiritual development. And this heightened state of being is what Bostridge brings to the work, infusing it with all the vigor and enthusiasm which usually only youth has at its disposal, but which the connection to the Luminous Heights of the spirit grants at any time. And when one "hears" this special luminosity in the voice ringing out right from the start, in the opening songs of the cycle, one can't help wondering: has there ever been a more spiritual singer?
The last five songs of the cycle are performed by Mr. Bostridge with devastating beauty and with the subtlety of shading that borders on the unbelievable. Mitsuko Uchida is a marvelous partner for him: she has that wonderful feminine presence, in the best sense of the word. She is lyrical and sensitive, powerful when needed, but never harsh or aggressive. Together they create an atmosphere, which is at once spontaneous and masterfully controlled. Mitsuko Uchida seems to have a liberating effect on Mr. Bostridge, where as Mr. Andsnes seems to us to have a somewhat constricting effect on him in their recording of "Winterreise", lacking the subtlety to match Bostridge's. So for us, their "Winterreise" is like a rose that never quite unfolded. By contrast, this recording with Mitsuko Uchida is a rose in full, glorious bloom: breathtakingly beautiful, and so alive and natural as if it never could have formed in any other way. This said, it is still the incomparable Julius Drake, who in our view remains the most ideal partner for Mr. Bostridge. Their work together stands on a plateau all its own. And their earlier recording of "Winterreise", which was made for the David Alden film, seems quite unsurpassable to us.
In "Die schone Mullerin" we find ourselves, together with Bostridge, reliving the joy and naiveté of youth's first love - without the "help" of psychoanalysis, which is always the quickest way to murder all fresh and genuine experiencing (in life as well as in art). This "murdering" inevitably occurs because psychoanalysis fails to take into consideration the spiritual essence of man, instead directing everything downwards (literally and figuratively) towards the lowest common denominator. It denies man a chance to see the perfection of the ideal in what is yet imperfect as real. And yet it is just the longing for the ideal that makes a human being, that shapes him into what he should become in Creation - just as the lack of that longing makes him into something that he was never meant to become. As Oscar Wilde so keenly observed: for all its intellectual appeal, cynicism is a perfect philosophy for a man without a soul. Genuine love, like nothing else, helps us to strive upwards to the height of existence worthy of man, so it is essential not to succumb to cynicism in these matters by quickly putting things into a sobering "perspective".
There is no question that Schubert carried the longing for this ideal of womanhood deep within his soul, as practically every one of his songs testifies. It was the longing that no amount of life's disappointments could tarnish. His irony never turned into cynicism, and his despair only served to intensify his longing. And it is self-evident that all the great German poets of that same period (Goethe, Heine, Schiller, Morike and many others) also had this longing, intuitively sensing the high place that a genuine woman was meant to occupy in Creation. But it is only Abd-ru-shin, who finally reveals the actual nature of the lofty task assigned to woman in the Divinely ordained order of Creation, from which we have all deviated such a long time ago that even a memory of it hardly stirs within us anymore: