British tenor Ian Bostridge has been presenting Schubert recitals for many years, generally with the accompanist heard here, Julius Drake. Bostridge's voice is a matter of taste, on the thin side, with little training before he began his professional career in his late twenties. His recitals offer insights into Schubert and his circle, into the development of the composer's career. This is intellectual Schubert, but one might just as easily say that it's Schubert for people who want to get deeper into the composer's music. This live recording at London's Wigmore Hall was taken from a series of Liederabend concerts designed to do just that. Schubert newcomers should note that the plain Songs by Schubert title doesn't tell much about what listeners are getting: there's hardly a familiar Schubert song in the bunch. Instead it's a collection that examines Schubert's relationships with various poets, most of all Johann Mayrhofer, with whom he is sometimes thought to have had a relationship that later broke up. Mayrhofer emerges as one of the sources of the bleak strain in Schubert's songs, a strange thing in one so young, and whether you like Bostridge's singing or not it's clear that his light, rather enervated sound fits these numbers well. Few other non-German singers seem as directly engaged with the texts. Auflösung (track 8), on the subject of suicide, is an almost unknown song and an extraordinary one. The recital is divided into two parts, with applause only after the first half and at the end (as is Bostridge's usual wish), and the second half delves into material from the later parts of Schubert's career; there are insights throughout. Taken for what it is -- a tour through some of the deeper recesses of Schubert's work -- this album works very well.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim