Florian Boesch & Burkhard Kehring – Schubert’s Schwanengesang

Schwanengesang, D957 [performed in the following order: Liebesbotschaft; Frühlingssehnsucht; Ständchen; AbschiedIn der Ferne; Aufenthalt; Kriegers Ahnung; Das Fischermädchen; Am Meer; Ihr Bild; Die Stadt; Der Doppelgänger; Der Atlas]

Florian Boesch (baritone) & Burkhard Kehring (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 21 April, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

In this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert, Schubert’s collected settings of texts from Rellstab and Heine, gathered under a publisher’s title of “Schwanengesang” were performed in a completely different order to the norm. Rellstab’s seven poems were altered so that ‘Kriegers Ahnung’ was placed last, the others also shuffled around, while the Heine songs followed in the order they appear in his “Lyrisches Intermezzo”, ‘Der Atlas’ becoming a postlude. Seidl’s ‘Die Taubenpost’, often added as the postlude, was omitted. There was a brief pause for breath (and applause) between the two authored-sets of poems, and musically the new order made sense.

Florian BoeschFlorian Boesch gave an extremely concentrated and thoughtful interpretation throughout, aided by carefully shaded accompaniment from Burkhard Kehring. As Rellstab’s texts unfolded there was an intimacy in the “whispering breezes” of ‘Frühlingssehnsucht’, both musicians employing effective rubato at the end of each verse.

Kehring concentrated on the tonal uncertainty of Schubert’s piano-writing, though when there was greater conviction, as in ‘Abschied’, the accompaniment was still somewhat deliberate, stumbling forward. Boesch, with a slightly nasal quality to his voice initially, really filled out his sound as the drama of these settings unfolded, finding extra volume when demanded by the text throughout ‘In Der Ferne’, then a piercing lower register for ‘Aufenthalt’.

The Heine texts were, on the whole, taken slowly. The stern ‘Ihr Bild’ was given slightly flat pitch by the singer – intentionally, it would appear, since his intonation was flawless elsewhere – with a particularly violent postlude from Kehring. The pianist’s contribution to ‘Am Meer’ was exemplary, with the strange colours achieved through the unusual doubling of low and middle registers. In ‘Die Stadt’ his characterisation was ever more vivid, the uncomfortable arpeggios painting not only the misty vision of the town and its turrets, but also the lapping of the dreadful waterway against the poet’s boat.

Yet more darkness was to follow, Boesch assuming total control for the intonations of the horrifying vision of ‘Der Doppelgänger’, while the stumbling staccato of Kuhring’s piano in ‘Der Atlas’ accompanied vocals of wretched power.

Boesch ensured his musicality was complemented by dramatic gestures and expressions throughout, as the depth of his commitment was literally displayed.

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