Music reviews

By Times Staff
Published January 2, 2006

English tenor Ian Bostridge may take a false step in his musical career someday, but his new CD is nothing but another step forward, solidifying his position as one of today's most fascinating vocal artists.

All of Bostridge's best qualities are here in full bloom: impeccably interesting repertoire choices, unusually light but steely-strong voice, and a first-rate collaborator who shares the singer's ability to abandon himself completely to the music.

Many others have recorded the three works on this disc, Les Illuminations, Serenade and Nocturne. Few if any, though, can claim a vocal timbre as individual as Bostridge's or his level of sensitivity to the poetic texts, impeccable even in the slippery surrealism of Rimbaud.

Furthermore, few tenors on record have backup like Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. Rattle acts like a pianist here, gently supporting the singer, tweaking phrases, and never overpowering. Meanwhile, the orchestra itself makes some first-rate contributions, particularly horn player Radek Baborak in the Serenade and the instrumentalists in the Nocturne.

Just try to listen to Illuminations, with Bostridge's voice gliding flawlessly up and down huge connected intervals, without getting goose bumps, or to the firm resolve and melt-away lyricism that informs every poem in Serenade without being stirred. Some may find the vaguely erotic overtones of Nocturne distasteful, but no listener could possibly turn away from the pastoral scene Bostridge and a harpist create in the Coleridge song or the transcendent final bars of the Shakespeare sonnet that ends the cycle. A+

- ZACHARY LEWIS, Times correspondent

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Fazil Say, piano (Naive)

Though both young and Turkish, pianist Fazil Say is not the proverbial Young Turk here playing three of Beethoven's best-known and most turbulent piano sonatas: the Appassionata, Waldstein and Tempest. Past all the music's storm and stress, Say's performances actually are quite sensitive.

Listeners familiar with the sonatas will encounter the occasional turn-off, an eccentrically rapid tempo here, an odd accent, hiccup, or quirky balance there. Even stranger, for some, will be those moments when Say sings along with his own playing a la Glenn Gould. None of these, though, is likely to detract much from the roller-coaster-style thrills Say provides as the outer movements reach their various boiling points. His take on the finale of the Appassionata is nothing less than brawny, and few pianists conjure as much thunder as Say does in the Waldstein and Tempest without sacrificing clarity.

What's more, the exquisite tenderness and brisk, light shading Say lavishes on the inner movements is sure to win over expert and novice alike, except those who prefer this music played very slowly.

Then there's the humor. Lightheartedness is rare in these works, but Say repeatedly makes convincing cases for it with deft articulation and phrasing. Overall, Say's Beethoven strikes a winning combination: respect for tradition without being enslaved by it. A-

- Z.L.