I promised a while back that I would talk about tenors: Peter Pears, Fritz Wunderlich, and Ian Bostridge.

Manu lent me a cd of Ian Bostridge singing Schumann’s Dichterliebe with the (to me at the time) ludicrous assertion that it was significantly better than Wunderlich’s approach to the same song cycle. After long deliberation between the two recordings, I would agree that they are significantly different but the absolute quality depends on what you are in the mood for.

Wunderlich is a master of technique to the point that even the heavy Romanticism of Schumann seems somehow classical. He gives free reign to his vibrato in a natural way, it seems. Barring that effect, the songs are simple yet beautiful. He lets the sonic texture of the music speak for itself. Bostridge, on the other hand, takes a much more active role in the interpretation of the music. At times it sounds too meddlesome — in the song “Ich hab’ in traum geweinet,” he sounds too overwrought to me for such a spare and clinical accompaniment. On the other hand, in songs like “Ein Juengling liebt ein Maedchen,” Wunderlich sounds lumbering compared to the nimble and light Bostridge. It’s a toss-up for me, I think. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to implement my own interpretation of the Dichterliebe, but it lies somewhere between then. But having listened only to the Wunderlich, Bostridge’s interpretation is a breath of fresh air.

Bostridge’s vocal style leads me to talk about Peter Pears, who was Britten’s lover and partner (had they been in MA I’m sure they would have gotten married). Britten wrote many pieces for Pears that highlight what some characterize as an unusual voice. I don’t think it’s unusual at all, but rather a more natural voice than we hear from other classically trained singers. Pears sounds like he comes from the same “warbler” tradition that appears in the flashback scenes of The Singing Detective. He is full of vibrato and perhaps sounds ponderous in his low range, but his tone is agile, for lack of a better word. He glides effortlessly through Britten’s Nocturne, for example, a feat which most other tenors would find difficult to be sure.

All of these singers are worth a listen. It adds a whole different dimension to listen to such wildly varying interpretations as Wunderlich and Bostridge, and it’s worth hearing Britten as sung by his intended tenor to get the feel of his solo voice music.