BBC Music Magazine - - Choral & Song Reviews -

The Pity of War

But­ter­worth: A Shrop­shire Lad; Kurt Weill: Four Walt Whit­man Songs; Mahler: Des Kn­aben Wun­der­horn – ‘Wo die schö­nen Trompe­ten blasen’, ‘Revelge’, ‘Der Tam­boursg’sell’; Stephan: Ich will dir sin­gen ein Ho­he­lied

Ian Bostridge (tenor),

An­to­nio Pap­pano (pi­ano)

Warner Clas­sics 9029566156 54:17 mins This recital unites four fig­ures closely as­so­ci­ated with the World Wars. Ge­orge But­ter­worth and Rudi Stephan died young in World War I; the Kurt Weill songs were writ­ten dur­ing the 1940s; and Gus­tav Mahler’s late-ro­man­tic style dis­tils the pre­car­i­ous, tragic mag­nif­i­cence which pre­ceded these decades of blood­shed.

But­ter­worth’s set­tings from

A Shrop­shire Lad are given a mov­ing treat­ment with a flex­i­ble ap­proach to tempo. Even ‘Is my team plough­ing’, which can eas­ily slip into ab­sur­dity, has dig­nity and pathos. Stephan’s six songs, dat­ing from 1913-15 (a year be­fore his death, aged 28) are fas­ci­nat­ing set­tings of po­etry by Gerda von Rober­tus. Although quite brief, the songs of­fer plenty of stylis­tic va­ri­ety, in­clud­ing lyric ten­der­ness, vigour, and ex­pres­sion­ist lux­u­ri­ance.

The dra­matic, oc­ca­sion­ally rhap­sodic Whit­man set­tings by Weill of­fer a com­plete con­trast, the vi­o­lence of ‘Beat! Beat! Drums!’ jolt­ing us out of Stephan’s sweet tor­por. The clos­ing Mahler songs from Des Kn­aben Wun­der­horn can be shock­ingly ugly (and rightly so), but I wiped away a tear in ‘Wo die schö­nen Trompe­ten blasen’.

Ian Bostridge’s singing is im­pres­sively mer­cu­rial, rang­ing from sweetly ten­der to harshly ag­gres­sive, with a sur­pris­ing bari­tonal edge, and crys­tal-clear text. An­to­nio Pap­pano’s un­sen­ti­men­tal ac­com­pa­ni­ment, richly re­plete with or­ches­tral sonori­ties but never over­pow­er­ing, re­veals his vast ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing with voice and or­ches­tra. Although drawn from a rel­a­tively brief span of his­tory, this recital of­fers a kalei­do­scopic and thought-pro­vok­ing range of re­sponses to the pity, waste and hor­ror of war. Natasha Loges



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