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Seen and Heard Recital  Review


Schubert, Wolf, Brahms and Schumann, Lieder:   Florian Boesch (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano) Wigmore Hall, London. 22.03.2007 (ED)


Of itself, Florian Boesch’s baritone voice has several fine qualities that any singer could profit from possessing: imposing tone allied to a strong technique, a richness of sonority that is most notable in the lower register and expressive abilities with the use of text. This much was made quickly in evidence during his recital at Wigmore Hall. Indeed the programme provided the ideal material to get a full impression of his abilities in his native repertoire, given that this was my first encounter with Boesch’s art.

A distinctive and clean-cut figure on stage, Boesch opened with five songs by Schubert. Der Schiffer announced that his style of Schubert singing is reminiscent of Hans Hotter’s in a few key respects, being manly and solidly founded in the bass-baritone aspect of his voice, but with some elements of tenderness also present. The sheer sense of scale he brought to the reading at times verged on making the song more than Schubert might have intended.  Auf dem See was given with a pared down vocal tone in the first stanza of Goethe’s poem, though later the impact of Boesch’s delivery was underlined by Martineau’s accentuated accompaniment. Der Fischer and Fischerweise brought further emphases of vocal and pianistic inflection that ran in parallel with gestural emphases of the text. An die Leier concluded the group in a rather ‘butch’ reading, whose purpose neatly brought out the paradox in Schubert’s writing: that his Beidermeier exterior often hides a more serious layer beneath. But I question whether Schubert was ever as dogmatically serious as Boesch made him sound here.

Nine Wolf songs followed in much the same vein, with Boesch so readily projecting ample tone into the hall that Martineau was forced to scale up the body of the accompaniment at times to maintain a reasonable balance. That said, Verschwiegene Liebe was sung with careful shading of scale and tone, proving that Florian Boesch can float a convincing line when the music demands it. Phänomen and Der Schäfer also proved effective in the establishment and maintenance of appropriate moods. Anakreons Grab was marginally less so, as perhaps not enough suggestion was made through tonal difference of the passage of time between the four seasons. Goethe’s text gives each significance, albeit through the presence of a single word apiece in the final stanza. Heimweh ranged in mood from detachment through to an insistent involvement apparent in strongly pressed vocal tone. Der Freund brought the first half to an end with a performance verging on near-Wagnerian proportions.

With the second half comprising of Brahms songs and Schumann’s Liederkreis, at least the repertoire seemed a more natural fit for Boesch’s style of interpretation. When he did allow himself rare moments of simple delivery, devoid of bodily twists, turns, and extreme gestures to the audience, his singing carried more authority and integrity. A real legato line was produced in Brahms’ Dein blaues Auge that captured the spirit of reflection inherent in Klaus Groth’s text. Likewise in Schumann’s cycle, the most effective songs were those in which Boesch let the composer’s carefully considered thoughts take the limelight. Anfangs wollt’ ish fast verzangen had simplicity in its brevity. That alone made me question why with the closing song’s mention of “Liebeshauch” (the breath of love) the bass-baritone range was resorted to such ferocity, rather than being given a lightness of timbre, even if sung at a full fortissimo.

To realise that the composer may well have considered aspect of interpretation in setting a text to music, and that all a singer need do is stand there and sing it is to realise just what a tough proposition being a lieder singer really is. Florian Boesch’s recital highlighted this thought for me, and I value hearing him for that. Opera might ultimately prove a wiser path for him to pursue given his large-scale dramatic delivery and demeanour, though I could well imagine he will vocally outgrow the Mozart opera repertoire he has largely sung to date. Weber, Schrecker or Wagner, to name but three, could be well served by him if this experience is anything to go by.

Evan Dickerson

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Contributors: Marc Bridle, Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling,  Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, John Leeman, Sue Loder,Jean Martin, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, Raymond Walker, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)

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