This was a concert on home turf for Ian Bostridge. At the Temple of Bostridge, as memorably put by a fellow attendee, a concert venue where Ian is king for the last few years and he can do no wrong. No wonder he was given his little mini season to curate, the unapologetically titled Bostridge Project complete with a haloed portrait of the great musical leader. Despite the cringe worthy promo this opener for the mini season was a great evening, suitably eclectic in music periods and also orchestral accompaniment.
The first half was the section devoted to baroque responses to the antique, with Kirchschlager opening the evening with a tremendous rendition of Handel’s cantata, with exquisite presence and brooding passion she negotiated the twists and turns of the narrative with elegance and urgency.
The Corelli sonata was a beautiful interlude, featuring some fresh violin playing by Nadja Zwiener and a -mostly- alert sound from The English Concert.
Then the home boy came out to sing his Nero cantata and he was indeed very good, despite not resisting his urge to come though a touch mannered. He sang too light heartedly, while almost tiptoeing on the front of the tiny Wigmore Hall stage. I’d rather have a less effete Nero to be honest.
After the interval and while watching with incredulity that so many members of the Aurora Orchestra can fit on that stage the programme turned to modern takes on Greek myth.
Satie’s narration of the death of Socrates was an affecting mix of low lying harmonies and rolling drums. With Bostridge delivering the piece, impressively without a music stand for reference. His elegant delivery became here more of an asset as it added tenderness to the description of the last conversations of Socrates with his disciples and the eventual drinking of the deadly poison. It was moving and atmospheric, in a way more paired down and involving than the baroque first half put together.
Angelika Kirchschlager is a brave soul to tackle Phaedra a late masterpiece by Britten written with the particularities of Janet Baker’s voice in mind. And I can honestly say she triumphed, negotiating the complex part with insight and individuality. The last uttered phrase: ‘My eyes at last give up their light, and see the day they’ve soiled resume its purity’ was a consummation of the last 20 minutes of delicious music making, the audience hanging to every nuance. The part is high-lying and declamatory, but Britten’s deadly serious music, with tremulous strings and deafening, abrupt percussion creates a potent, intoxicating mix. It was a shame that no orchestral piece was added to the programme for the Aurora Orchestra who gave a pulsating account of both Satie and Britten, allowing their individual voices to be heard.
The concert was recorded for future CD release, so look out for it and make your own mind up. Janet Baker’s definitive version with the English Chamber Orchestra is available alongside Britten’s own recording of The Rape of Lucretia. Her vision forever stamped on the heroine and will always be a guiding light and a yardstick for any singer taking it on.