For those of us, who have no opportunity to attend Ian Bostridge's recitals, this DVD (recorded live at Chatelet as part of the "Voices of Our Time" series) is a priceless gift. Having heard much about his "unorthodox" manner of delivery, we were surprised by just how natural and spontaneous he was. Every interpretive nuance seemed to stem from his deep inner conviction in how to bring to life the very essence of each lied. It was thrilling to have each song turned into an actual experience on stage, as though it were being "lived out" right there at that moment, right before our very eyes. And it is a mistake to think that this can be achieved through mere "acting", for the power necessary for this would not be sufficient. The kind of mezmerizing hold that Mr. Bostridge has over the audience can only come from his spirit.
This actually takes a great deal of courage: to open yourself up to the point, at which the spirit can rise from within and take over the performance. This happens only with the greatest of artists, who put themselves entirely at the service of the music. In addition, it takes a particular stage of spiritual development, because it requires a nobility of soul - something that definitely cannot be "acted". In fact, it is so rare to see spiritual nobility these days that some people tend to mistake it for "posturing" or affectation.
It is difficult to single out highlights, because in its own way every song is a highlight (though, it must be said that a song like "Nimmersatte Liebe" is simply unworthy of Mr. Bostridge). Rising to the dizzying heights of effortless virtuosity in "Willkommen und Abschied", "Storchenbotschaft", "Abschied", he contrasts it with spellbinding stillness in "Nacht und Traume", "Wanderers Nachtlied II", and the last encore, Schubert's "Erster Verlust", just needs to be experienced to be believed. To end an entire recital on a question! And through the powerful projection of the inconsolable longing for what has been lost, to transform it into a kind of eternal, existential question!
Singing about the beauty of the spiritual ideal (in "An die Geliebte", "Neue Liebe"), Mr. Bostridge himself undergoes a kind of transformation and begins to emerge as the earthly personification of that ideal. His features become transfigured, as they take on a reflection of the unearthly beauty of his spirit, which has found its expression in the lieder of Schubert and Wolf. Glowing through the body's material cloak, the luminosity of his spirit has little to do with our modern concepts of beauty - but then true beauty is not dependent on the correctness of physical features, but only on the extent to which spirituality is revealed on the face.
Another phenomenon can be observed in this performance: Mr. Bostridge's extra-ordinary sensitivity to words. Much has been written about it, but to fully appreciate this, it is necessary to lift part of the veil covering the knowledge of the mysterious powers contained in every human word, to which most people remain oblivious.
The more sensitive people perceive this intuitively. So very often in the course of the recital, what we see on Mr. Bostridge's face is how deeply he is affected by this special "releasing quality" contained in every word, particularly when it is even further amplified by the music. (The great Fischer-Dieskau also possessed this quality.) The facial expressions do not come from "acting", but from an inordinate degree of receptivity to the forming power of the words, which create word-forms in the layers of matter, invisible to the human eye. "Erlkonig" is, perhaps, the most obvious illustration of this receptivity, but it is present throughout - already in "Wehmut" it is clearly discernible, as Mr. Bostridge, from the very first note, stands right in the power-current of his Calling.
And speaking of receptivity to Higher Realms, a set of Wolf songs ("Gebet", "An den Schlaf", "Neue Liebe" and "An die Geliebte"), written after the composer's attendance of Wagner's "Parsifal", reveals much more about him than just Wagner's stylistic influence on his music. The inner deepening that has occurred is clearly reflected in the so-called "religious" songs chosen for this recital. This is also where Mr. Bostridge sores to new heights of spiritual transcendence in his performance.
It is reported that during the intermission of "Parsifal" Wolf broke down in tears. For such a reaction to happen, he had to have been shaken to the innermost depths of his being, he had to have experienced a spiritual recognition of the actual existence of the Persona of Parsifal in Creation and the reality of the Holy Grail (despite the fact that Wagner's story, based as it is on purely human writings, contains many errors).
Richard Wagner's highly-guided opera "Parsifal" offers a chance to every human being to experience this reality intuitively, on a profound spiritual level, without clinging to its outward inaccuracies. And many people do have this significant inner experience after listening to this opera, unaware that the shaking nature of it is rooted in the reality of life in Creation, which owes its continued existence to the Power pouring from the Holy Grail on the Day of the Holy Dove.