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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Florian Boesch (baritone)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. 21-25 May 2015, All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London
Texts and translations available at the Onyx website
ONYX 4149 [74:08]

I have been an admirer of Florian Boesch’s mellifluous baritone ever since I first heard his Schubert “Romantic Poets” recital for the Naxos label recorded ten years ago. Since then, he has established himself as an eminent Lieder singer in international recital engagements and a series of recordings for Onyx. I was especially impressed by “Die Schöne Müllerin” (review) and “Winterreise” (review) and the “Der Wanderer” album he recorded for Hyperion with Roger Vignoles in 2012 (review), but experienced some mild reservations regarding his approach to “Schwanengesang”, in which I felt that too often he was under-singing, relying too much on softness, subtlety and falsetto and thereby underplaying the inherent drama of the music in his desire to avoid coming across as too “operatic”. He has an intrinsically beautiful, powerful voice, but I was reminded of how much more I enjoy a great baritone really singing out when I compared his reticent account of “Du bist die Ruh” with Pavel Lisitsian’s magnificent – but highly demonstrative- version in Russian, recorded in 1948, or the account in Simon Keenlyside’s lovely Schubert recital for EMI way back in 1993. To be fair, Boesch does open up a bit more on top D the first time he sings the penultimate soaring phrase “Allein erhelt”, reverting appropriately to mezzo-piano for its final appearance, but the contrast is not as great as it could and should be.

Similarly, his renderings of two more favourite Lieder, “Der König in Thule” and “Der Zwerg”, pale in comparison with, say, Brigitte Fassbaender’s riveting account with Graham Johnson and Jessye Norman’s for Philips respectively. The former is taken so fast as to sound almost perfunctory and both songs are under-characterised; there is too much reining in and a good deal of singing which approaches crooning. In this regard, he is similar to his contemporary Christian Gerhaher. I realise that these are purely matters of subjective taste but I do wonder whether those artists, in their desire to eschew any tasteless histrionics, do not sometimes throw out the proverbial Schubertian baby with the affective bathwater. The cumulative effect of so many pianissimo, half-voiced phrases and excursions into the falsetto can result in the listener feeling somewhat cheated of the impact these songs can deliver and finding this recital as a whole rather too soothing and soporific. As a final example of a song where I feel Boesch fails to rise to the occasion, I submit that fragment, “Der Tod und das Mädchen”. For me, there are no chills at all; furthermore, the key chosen is too low and Boesch’s final low D is groaned, not resonated in the way Fassbaender and Moll can do it – yet he made a fine job of that note on "Glück" at the end of the first song in the Hyperion recital.

Yet so much is here is highly enjoyable, too. Boesch has an intrinsically beautiful tone, his diction is exemplary, his control masterly and his dynamic gradations smooth as silk. He also comes alive more in certain, perhaps less familiar, songs such as “Gruppe aus dem Tartarus”. Malcolm Martineau’s accompaniment is as fleet, elegant and sensitive as you could wish: I especially like the little stab he makes on “stach” in “Heidenröslein” and there are many such touches.

The helpful notes by Richard Stokes offer a short summary and commentary on each of the twenty-four songs in this well-filled album; he also controversially asserts the homosexuality of the composer as fact, an aspect of his life still very much debated and in any case of no great relevance to the music. The cover design of the CD re-visits the juxtaposed half-face photographs theme of previous Onyx issues but is executed in garish colours rather than the previous elegant shades. Texts and translations are available on the Onyx website as shown above.

Ultimately I enjoyed much of this recital despite my concerns and I welcome the inclusion of some of the rather less-often recorded songs from Schubert’s enormous output of 600 or so; however, for what I consider to be definitive versions of some of the songs here, I shall return to other favourite Schubert singers such as Janet Baker, Simon Keenlyside, Brigitte Fassbaender and Kurt Moll, all of whom sing with more overt emotionalism.

Ralph Moore

Der Fischer D225 [2:52]
Der König in Thule D367 [2:44]
Der Zwerg D771 [5:11]
Im Frühling D882 [4:27]
Nachtviolen D752 [2:54]
An den Mond D259 [2:42]
An mein Herz D860 [2:58]
Frühlingsglaube D686 [2:50]
Heidenröslein D257 [1:45]
Die Vogel D691 [1:06]
Fischerweise D881 [2:56]
Geheimes D719 [1:32]
Lachen und Weinen D777 [1:54]
Erster Verlust D226 [1:44]
An die Musik (version b) D54 [2:10]
Du bist die Ruh D776 [3:50]
Gruppe aus dem Tartarus D583 (396) [3:13]
Der Gott und die Bajadere D254 [8:53]
Der Tod und das Mädchen D531 [2:36]
Abendstern D806 [2:20], Die liebe hat D751 [2:38]
Litanei auf das Fest alle Seelen D343 [4:42]
Schwanengesang D744 [2:38]
Der Sieg D805 [3:32].

My reviews referred to above:



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