Gesänge des Harfners aus ‘Wilhelm Meister’ [Wer sich die Einsamkeit ergibt, D478; Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß, D480; An die Türen will ich schleichen, D479]
Grenzen der Menschheit, D716
Wandrers Nachtlied I, D224
Drei Gedichte von Michelangelo
Florian Boesch (baritone) & Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 27 January, 2014
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall offered the fascinating opportunity to compare two nineteenth-century settings of Goethe’s Prometheus – from Schubert in 1815 and Hugo Wolf in 1889. They provided bookends for the recital in which Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau also performed some rather sombre Schubert settings of the same poet and Wolf’s wilder interpretations of Michelangelo’s verse.
Boesch has a truly remarkable voice, described as a baritone but capable of extending downwards to bass ranges, effortlessly filling Wigmore Hall but also capable of introspection. For Schubert’s Goethe settings Boesch’s voice was black as treacle. ‘Wer sich die Einsamkeit ergibt’ (Who gives himself to loneliness), the first part of the cycle based on Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, was desolation itself, solemnly fading at the end, the brief optimism in the piano part snuffed out. ‘Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß’ (Who never ate his bread with tears) was similarly brooding, while ‘An die Türen will ich schleichen’ (I’ll steal from door to door) was chilling, the song coming to an abrupt stop. Boesch displayed remarkable clarity in the lower register for ‘Grenzen der Menschheit’, a meditation with an extremely slow process of thought, as if seen through old age. Boesch and Martineau then continued their grip on a rapt audience for ‘Wandrers Nachtlied I’; its opening chorale evinced stillness and finally arriving at a form of peace.
The Wolf selection began with a triptych of Michelangelo settings from late in the composer’s relatively brief life. The reminiscences of ‘Wohl denk’ ich oft’ were nostalgic but also fiercely proud, Boesch filling the Hall with “Und, daß ich da bin, wissen alle Leute!” (And the entire world knows that I exist!). He was matched by the heroic piano-playing of Martineau, the blazing fanfares of the postlude superbly executed. Things took a sinister turn with ‘Alles endet, was entstehet’, before the questioning ‘Fühlt meine Seele’ arrived at an affirmative answer once Martineau’s expressive postlude arrived in the major key.
What of the Prometheus settings? Schubert approached his by a dramatic recitative, the declamatory opening from Prometheus to Zeus set to the steely lower range of the piano. Boesch’s control was immaculate, with flashes of anger and rebellion that led to an emotionally distorted and unresolved finish. Wolf’s version, later orchestrated by the composer, blew the house down in this performance. Boesch harnessed extraordinary vocal power for the fire and brimstone of the opening, a Night on the Bare Mountain in song form. Martineau was equally impressive, his thundering prelude outlining the struggle with Zeus, Wolf’s setting taking on an operatic grandeur. It was an utterly compelling. For something extra to soothe the nerves, the performers opted for more Wolf, the softly voiced ‘Gebet’ from the Mörike-Lieder.