Florian Boesch & Malcolm Martineau at Wigmore Hall – Schubert

Auf der Bruck, D853; Der Sieg, D805; Geheimes, D719; Heidenröslein, D257; Der König in Thule, D367; An den Mond, D259; Frühlingsglaube, D686; Im Frühling, D882; Du bist die Ruh, D776; Lebensmelodien, D395; Die Vögel, D691; Die drei Sänger, D329; Der Gott und die Bajadere, D254

Florian Boesch (baritone) & Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 9 November, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Florian Boesch. Photograph: Stefan von der DekenAs for the previous Monday, the BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert consisted of Schubert sung by a baritone. It proved interesting comparing the approach of Florian Boesch with Christopher Maltman of “Die schöne Müllerin”.

Boesch has a slightly nasal yet very rounded voice, fulsome in the lower register and with a very natural projection. Here he sang as if in conversation, effortlessly communicating with the audience while overcoming some of the more technical challenges. What began as a relatively conventional selection of Lieder, based around Goethe texts, ended with some of the composer’s more daring, experimental settings. “Der Gott und die Bajadere” posed particular performance problems, bidding to hold the listener’s interest while remaining melodically and harmonically static for nine stanzas. Boesch told the story – ‘The God and the dancing girl’ – with persuasive yet subtle alterations to the ‘norm’, the pausing deliberately with Malcolm Martineau during the last stanza for maximum emotional impact. The relentlessly repeated progressions became part of Schubert’s response to the subject matter, and Martineau was remarkably consistent in his punctuation between stanzas.

Malcolm Martineau. Photograph: martineau.infoThis remarkable song was prefaced by a relatively lop-sided composition, “Die drei Sänger” telling the story of three musicians competing for their king’s approval. Boesch opted not to use the ending written by Schubert scholar Reinhard von Hoorrickx, finishing instead with a softly spoken last verse that proved unexpectedly affecting.

As part of this third selection there were also two texts on birds, with “Lebensmelodien” especially enjoyable for the way the baritone took on the persona of the three species involved. We were presented with a gliding, imperious swan, an eagle buffeted back and forth by the wind and a rather indulgent, self-absorbed pair of doves.

The wind buffeted, too, in the opening song, with the repeated notes of the piano accompaniment driving “Auf der Bruck” forward to thrilling effect, the unsteady motion of the galloping horse perfectly caught. To complement this was the slow “Der Sieg”, with Boesch reaching the low F on full, resonant tone. Further proof of the baritone’s versatility in these songs was offered through “Geheimes”, in which he was fully into character as his eyes darted this way and that, and “Heidenröslein”, Martineau’s clipped staccato accompaniment as if on tiptoe, the stillness of “Du bist die Ruh” was striking, the vocal line more affecting for its lack of ornamentation.

This recital would have been ideal for any newcomers to Schubert Lieder, offering several approaches to the medium by the composer, both conventional and unusual, and concluding with an encore of a favourite, “An die Musik” (D547). As with the rest of the songs, the performance chemistry between singer and pianist was abundantly clear.

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