on 14 March 2005
Every once in a while a performer comes along, who transcends the medium he is working in. Ian Bostridge is just such a performer. For us, he has come to symbolize spirituality in art. It might seem redundant to describe classical music (and Schubert Lieder in particular) as spiritual, and yet in today's world "spirituality" is quite the last word to be used in praise of someone's performance. Perhaps, it is a sign of the times that this quality is no longer valued (neither in life nor in art). Or perhaps, it is just assumed that the work of a truly great composer can survive any performance and still retain its inherent spiritual value. The latter might be true to some extent - but, oh, how much greater the impact of a work of Mozart, Beethoven or Mahler in the hands of Furtwangler or Bernstein!
And Ian Bostridge has become a master of Lieder on that level, as this recording of "Die schone Mullerin" proves. Somehow he is able to unearth more of the spiritual depths of the great Lieder masterpieces than any other performer and make their inherent spirituality much more tangible, more alive and more significant for a contemporary audience. It is not only his superb diction combined with impeccable intonation that makes this possible, but above all else, it is his connection to the Ray of Purity in Creation. Purity has nothing to do with puritanism, but is a natural and necessary condition of the healthy spirit. Since most of us have completely lost touch with this basic quality of the spirit, it becomes essential to be reminded of what it feels like when the strings of one's soul are touched in this very special, delicate and indescribable way. This is where all genuinely great art has its high Calling. It is not necessary (though preferable, of course) that an artist's whole life should already be based on purity, what is necessary is that in the act of the execution of his Calling he is able to find a connection to Purity, which alone opens the gate to that level of artistry we generally regard as "sublime'. This is also the reason why Mr. Bostridge's voice possesses such youthful freshness, which many people have already commented on. Purity always has this refreshing and uplifting effect, because it issues from the child-like quality of the imperishable spirit and is not dependent on the person's actual age.
And this child-like wonder is what characterizes the protagonist of "Die schone Mullerin". 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?
Together with Bostridge, we find ourselves 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). 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". The great German philosopher, writing under the name of Abd-ru-shin, restores the natural perspective on a man/woman relationship:
"...in every normal development all that is womanly exercises a strong and solely uplifting influence (which in its unconscious beginnings always swings purely) upon the male as soon as the latter attains physical maturity. With physical maturity there simultaneously awakens the great generative sensing, which forms the connection or the bridge for the activity of the spiritual core of earthman in the plane of coarse matter, i.e., here on earth.... This is the absolutely natural process in the swinging of the undimmed radiations in accordance with the Laws in Creation. All else is distorted!" (Abd-ru-shin, "IN THE LIGHT OF TRUTH: THE GRAIL MESSAGE" - "IM LICHTE DER WAHRHEIT: GRALSBOTSCHAFT")
There is no question that Schubert carried the longing for the 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. The last five songs of this 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 wonderfully delicate feminine presence to her. That said, Bostridge's partnership with the incomparable Julius Drake, as evidenced in their earlier recording of "Winterreise", which was made for the David Alden film (on DVD), seems quite unsurpassable to us. That film, by the way, is a masterpiece of poetic filmmaking, in which Mr. Bostridge (in addition to his singing) delivers the most riveting, heart-wrenching portrayal of the protagonist.
The ideal of ennoblement, profundity, solemnity is what distinguishes Ian Bostridge's artistic persona and sets him apart from all other performers: making an impact on the world through sublimity and reawakening the longing for the spiritual ideal in the hearts of his listeners. It is this that insures the living connection with the Light!