Lichfield Festival has undergone some changes in recent years, but – amidst all the brightly-coloured demands of outreach and accessibility – it remains a classical music festival of national stature. Whether or not its audience appreciates this is another question, to judge by the relatively small turn-out for Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake’s performance of Schubert’s Winterreise.
Not, of course, that Winterreise is ever an easy listen, and on a grey July evening, it may simply have been too much for sun-starved music-lovers to bear. Singing from memory, Bostridge immersed himself in the drama of Schubert’s “cycle of frightening songs” with absolute conviction, striding about the stage, staring bleakly into the middle-distance, and occasionally bending double over the piano.
His vocal characterisation was just as involved: every syllable, it seemed, received its own special colouring, from nasal snarls to pale, breathy whispers. So when – as in Der Lindenbaum and Frühlingstraum he occasionally allowed a phrase to unfurl in his gloriously sweet natural tone, it came as a release. That there were so few such moments is, of course, down to Schubert rather than Bostridge. Nonetheless, it was draining.
Pianist Julius Drake, meanwhile, while blending his tone exquisitely with Bostridge’s in warmer moments – such as the false hope of Täuschung – and rising to Schubert’s horn-calls and cock-crows with some vividly colourful playing, chose by and large to play it straight. His was a welcome note of objectivity in an emotionally draining evening: in its own way, a tour de force.