The beginnings of points can be fuzzy. But a person tends to get credit for being the very first, and in the scenario of the song cycle, that man or woman is Beethoven.
His “An die ferne Geliebte,” published in 1816, set a assortment of 6 poems to audio — not to be performed separately, but together as a solitary piece. He identified as it a “liederkreis,” or a track cycle. And from that oversimplified commencing place, the variety blossomed.
A New Yorker could listen to an abbreviated historical past of the track cycle genre — from in which it began to where it stands today — in concerts by two eminent tenors this week. At the 92nd Avenue Y on Tuesday, Christoph Prégardien paired “An die ferne Geliebte” with Schubert’s “Schwanengesang” and at Zankel Corridor on Thursday, Ian Bostridge presented a double monthly bill of Robert Schumann’s “Dichterliebe” and the area premiere of the pianist-composer Brad Mehldau’s “The Folly of Desire.”
With the pianist Julius Drake, a collaborator gifted with sensitive phrasing and insight, Mr. Prégardien break up “Schwanengesang” — Schubert’s last tunes, assembled as a cycle by his publisher — in two. Following all, the 1st seven are options of Ludwig Rellstab the following 6 are of Heinrich Heine. (The 14th track, “Die Taubenpost,” considered to be the previous Schubert ever wrote, was still left off the plan but offered as an encore.)
In between the two pieces, they done the 15-moment “An die ferne Geliebte,” which in spite of its revolutionary form and richly interwoven new music and psychology, endured from juxtaposition with the rending natural beauty and vast emotional selection of Schubert’s songs. Mr. Prégardien also seemed much better suited to “Schwanengesang” he has lengthy reigned in the Schubert repertoire, and at 63 his interpretive depth is extra profound than at any time. Still he also seemed to be at odds with his very own voice, which has taken on tough contours that occasionally betray him with a crack or braying eruption.
Following Schubert’s music cycle masterpieces of the 1820s came “Dichterliebe” of the 1840s, set as nicely to Heine and just one of the important functions of the genre. Mr. Bostridge is a veteran performer of the Schumann, and even recorded it with Mr. Drake but on Thursday he was joined by Mr. Mehldau, a brilliant jazz pianist who brought a mostly indelicate, inelegant reading through incongruous with Mr. Bostridge’s heat and grace.
In his new song cycle, made for Mr. Bostridge, nevertheless, Mr. Mehldau knew how to write perceptively for this tenor’s strengths — the way he could render Schumann’s songs ironic, with razor-sharp turns toward the acerbic in traces this sort of as “filled with love” and “I bear no grudge.” His voice is at its greatest in these shocking shifts. Hearing them is like sitting by a comforting fire that from time to time stings with a stray ember.
But beautiful vocal traces could not by itself have “The Folly of Desire,” which utilizes texts from Shakespeare, Auden, Brecht and more to explore — as Mr. Mehldau described in a program be aware — timeless themes of love as a result of a publish-MeToo prism that considers consent, have faith in and the dangers of desire’s inclination to blind.
Small of this was borne out in the skin-deep rating, motivated by jazz and full of too lots of apparent turns of phrase, these as the term “air” being supplied a lofty melody, like a feather in a breeze. As straightforward listening, even though, “The Folly of Desire” was also straightforward to like for its 45 minutes, even if it left the viewers pondering far more about Mr. Mehldau’s thoughtfully essayistic plan observe than the new music alone.