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Tenor Bostridge Misses Connection With Audience


What do listeners want from vocal recitals?

Communication, connection, stories, vignettes, moments of insight into great poetry, musical feelings outside the verbal . . .

Ian Bostridge's recital in Founders Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa on Thursday night delivered some outward manifestations of these virtues, but not consistently. The British tenor, who has been in Southern California for 10 days for a number of concerts, appeared at the Eclectic Orange Festival and sang a recital of lieder by Franz Schubert and Hugo Wolf.

For those who had expected depth of communication, not a lot emerged. Bostridge is an indicator; he sings carefully but does not usually display vulnerability or emotional catharsis. His tone is pleasing, neutral, largely uncolored. He is admirable about pronouncing words clearly, but hardly savors them.

As a vocal storyteller, he does so with a straight-faced objectivity some might find charming if he varied its use. Instead, he seems regularly to be outside his material. In Bostridge's professorial poses--leaning over the piano, or standing still and looking at his audience inquisitively--one could be reminded of Jonathan Miller's funnier moments.

Some of Bostridge's singing in the Schubert half of the program--as in "Am See" or "In Haine"--allowed beautiful poetry wedded to musical inspiration to speak handsomely for itself. And his performance of the final song in the group, "Erlkonig," was a chilling, deeply resonant experience.

On the other hand, some moments in the Wolf half, as in an overstated "Nimmersate Liebe" or emotionally confusing "Peregrina" or self-consciously arch "Storchenbotschaft," went beyond storytelling into grandstanding. Direct communication between singer and audience simply did not happen.

Julius Drake was Bostridge's resourceful partner on piano.

At the end, and in response to fervent audience reaction, the two offered four encores, all by Schubert: "An die Musik, "Die Gotter Grieschenlands," "Heidenroslein" and "Erster Verlust."

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