With Julius Drake, piano, at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday, March 31.
Tenor Ian Bostridge has an odd presence on stage. He must be in his forties, but he has the gawky, stretched-out limbs of a teenage boy who’s just experienced a massive growth spurt, his adolescent air exacerbated by overlarge ears and floppy, baby-fine hair. As he sings, he lurches about unpredictably, swaying and twitching, hands fluttering. Some people consider his bearing and behavior distracting (a couple of them sat behind me at this performance), but I find it sort of endearing. Too goofy to be contrived, his movements might be weird but they’re undoubtedly innate and sincere. Then again, I often sit with my eyes closed at concerts, so I might not be the best judge—especially because Bostridge’s clear, expressive voice could easily inspire me to forgive all manner of sins.
Bostridge’s program Wednesday night showcased lieder by Brahms: Romantic art songs, some tempestuous, some gentle and sweet, some folk-like, some marked by complex rhythms and dramatic leaps in the melody. Pianist Julius Drake provided the accompaniment, storming through runs meant to evoke harsh winds and despair and lightly pedaling the watercolor sonorities of moonlight and love. The pair have recorded together and performed together on numerous occasions, and you could tell that by how complementary their interpretations were, how united they were at every resolution, every moment of rubato.
Beyond that, what is there to say? Brahms’s songs have a simplicity about them (albeit a deceptive simplicity, in some cases) that resists overanalysis, even from the likes of me. Suffice it to say that I’ve wanted to attend one of Bostridge’s recitals for years, ever since I heard him sing the tenor solo in Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem nearly a decade ago, and the stars never aligned until now—but it was worth the wait.