Considering its fundamental impact on human society, World War I produced surprisingly little music directly, although it simmered under the surface in all kinds of ways. Compared to the U.S. Civil War or World War II, there are few World War I songs. Thus tenor Ian Bostridge and pianist Antonio Pappano do well to take an indirect approach in this collection, which Bostridge developed as he pondered his involvement with Benjamin Britten's War Requiem (a World War II piece). The program was developed in live performances, introduced by the voice-and-piano versions of Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, but here Bostridge and Pappano take a risk and succeed: they rely on the extreme intimacy of George Butterworth's Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad to draw the listener in, and it works. Bostridge excels in the pianissimo lines and the quiet tragedy of these songs. The pair seek out cycles that have a few songs on the subject of war and death, or that have resonances of wars; in the Butterworth case, some of poet A.E. Housman's protagonists were dying in the Boer War. In Kurt Weill's Four Walt Whitman Songs it was the American Civil War, and this is indeed an intriguing set of rarely performed songs, in this version partly German, partly American, and partly British. The songs of German composer Rudi Stephan do not address war directly but were indeed written at the front, shortly before the composer's death; this makes a stronger impact than seeking out war songs exclusively would have. Bostridge's voice has proven remarkably consistent over the years, and in its low-key way it is ideal for this repertory. If you're skeptical of all-star releases, be advised that this is one that really delivers.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|A Shropshire Lad|
|Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied|
|Four Walt Whitman Songs|
|Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn|