Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Florian Boesch (baritone); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. 27-31 January 2011, All Saint’s Church, East Finchley, London. DDD
German texts and English translations included
ONYX 4077 [76:43]
In 2008 the Cheltenham Music Festival presented three very fine recitals on consecutive days which featured Schubert’s two great song cycles and Schwanengesang. I had the good fortune to review all three events for MusicWeb International Seen and Heard. The second of these three included Schwanengesang and the singer was Florian Boesch. I’d not heard him before but he made a very favourable impression (review) so I was delighted to find that he has since recorded Winterreise.
Looking back on the review of that Cheltenham recital I see that I commented as follows about Boesch’s singing in general. “He has a fine dynamic range, ample variety of tone colour at his disposal and his diction is admirably clear. The voice is well produced from top to bottom. He has a secure, sonorous lower range and the sounds at the top of his compass are delightful and free.” I didn’t revisit my earlier review until after I’d finished my listening work on this CD but I think the comments I made then still hold good.
I also commented in 2008 on Boesch’s deployment of a wide range of facial expressions and physical gestures. Such features are absent when one listens to a disc. What I noticed, however, was the fairly frequent use of mezza voce. One hears that, for example, in three successive songs, ‘Der Lindenbaum’, ‘Wasserflut’ and ‘Auf dem Flusse’. Some may feel the effect is slightly overused. I don’t think it is in ‘Der Lindenbaum’, where the singing is almost confiding, nor in ‘Wasserflut’, in which Boesch is musing and wistful. In my notes, however, I wondered if this reduced voice had become a little over-used in three songs one after another by the time Boesch got to ‘Auf dem Flusse’. I think this approach would work well in a live recital but perhaps it’s an effect that will pall slightly on repeated hearings.
If there’s a slight question mark in that respect there are many positive features to record in the ledger. Indeed, that very use of mezza voce and his readiness to drain his voice of colour is part and parcel of Boesch’s strong identification with the texts. This is a characterful reading of Winterreise and one is left in no doubt that Boesch has thought very carefully about the texts and about what Schubert was seeking to express in his settings of them.
The characterful approach to the songs is illustrated early on, in ‘Die Wetterfahne’. Here, Malcolm Martineau whips up a capricious wind and Boesch’s delivery of the vocal line is biting and dramatic. Both singer and pianist turn on the power in the first two stanzas of ‘Rückblick’ – and rightly so. The account of ‘Rast’ is full of very strong contrasts. Is it too much? I’m inclined to think that Müller’s words – and Schubert’s musical response to them – justify the approach. The potent ending of the song in this performance contrasts most effectively with the surface innocence at the start of ‘Frühlingstraum’. Yet once again the reading is founded on contrasts with the second stanza biting and the third taken very slowly and ruefully. Then Boesch and Martineau repeat their approach in the remaining three stanzas of the song.
I like Boesch’s apt range of vocal colours in ‘Die Krähe’ and I was equally impressed with his compelling word-painting in ‘Im Dorfe’. ‘Das Wirtshaus’ is another success. Here, Boesch delivers the first three stanzas in an appropriately withdrawn manner but then ends the song on a note of grim defiance. This makes it all the more logical that he can then appear to gather himself once more for ‘Mut!’ before the bitter regret that’s evident in his account of ‘Die Nebensonnen’. Finally, a tense, potent atmosphere is distilled in ‘Der Leiermann’.
This is an impressive traversal of Schubert’s winter journey. Florian Boesch’s singing is consistently involving and interesting and the support he receives from Malcolm Martineau is first class. Boesch enters fully into every song and it’s clear that he’s delving below the surface of the music. This is a fine addition to the discography of this engrossing song cycle.
Masterwork Index: Winterreise
An impressive traversal of Schubert’s winter journey.