The season of winter colds can be a perilous one for promoters of song recitals. On Tuesday Philip Langridge woke up to find himself without a voice and the Temple Song series was fortunate to produce Ian Bostridge as a replacement at the eleventh hour.
This was the opening event in the second series of Temple Song. Practical changes since last year have made Middle Temple Hall feel a more welcoming place. The spotlights have been dimmed and the acoustics seem to be better, though the lanky Bostridge naturally has a built-in advantage for reaching over the heads of the audience.
The first half of what had intended to be an all-Britten programme turned into Schubert – an advance airing of the recital that Bostridge and Julius Drake, Temple Song’s resident accompanist, are due to give in Paris next week. For all the praise that has been heaped on him, Bostridge looks and sounds an effortful interpreter of German song. The habit of singing out of the corner of his mouth has become worse, though it does not detract from the sound, and he puts the songs through a mangle in his search for deep emotions. He is at his best where the music seeks to cross into other-worldly spheres, as in the visionary images of Schubert’s “Abendbilder”.
The second half, featuring Britten items from the original programme, was more rewarding. As always, Bostridge took a personal line here, throwing body and soul into vivid vignettes of the Thomas Hardy settings that make up the song cycle Winter Words and swaying from side to side so that the audience could hear him. In Britten’s Second Canticle, Abraham and Isaac, he was joined by Iestyn Davies. Their voices were well matched and, with Drake giving the accompaniment the colours of a full orchestra, the biblical drama came operatically to life.