Since first reviewing Florian Boesch in recital in 2007, I have consciously avoided hearing him sing again. It’s not that I found that experience a completely negative one – he does have several attributes of voice production that many singers can only dream of possessing – but I found his approach to the lieder recital as a whole rather off-putting, being too ‘in your face’. In fact, were he not a singer I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a thug for hire. Boesch is still delivering lieder with menaces and I remain to be convinced that he needs to go quite as far as he does in assaulting his public in the name of art.
The grouping of Liszt songs that opened the recital immediately set the tone for much, but not all, of what was to follow. An exactitude of word-pointing and phrasing marked Boesch’e approach to Heine’s text in Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam, matched by an entirely appropriate starkness in Malcolm Martineau’s playing of the accompaniment. Indeed, singer and pianist were of one mind throughout the evening – which for every reward it offered only served to highlight still further the lack of warmth that is one of the characteristics of Boesch’s singing. That said, he has a fine gift for narrative when he allows himself to not be so emotionally caught up in the angst of the music, as songs such as O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst! Illustrated. Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh’ covered the entire emotional range, Martineau making the pauses of the accompaniment add much to the peace found in Goethe’s text, whilst Boesch showed on one hand a fine gift for shading down his voice and then almost a total disregard for its tonal quality when barked out at fortissimo.
The selection of songs by Richard Strauss fared a little better, though when singing in more restrained voice there was a sense of detachment. It was impossible to deny the enthusiasm of a lover brought to Breit’ über mein Haupt or Boesch’s ability to hint at meaning when he felt like it, as with the nudging touch he gave to the ending of All’ mein Gedanken. Ruhe, meine Seele! and Allerseelen concluded the first half with singing of such masculinity and dominance – albeit with individual touches brought to the texts along the way – that one was quite glad for the interval’s opportunity for some gathering of thoughts and inner stillness.
Ten Schubert songs comprised the second half. Of these, Der Tod und das Mädchen was most strongly characterised in both its main aspects of innocence and menace – with little surprise as to which was the dominant of the two in Boesch’s interpretation. An die Musik was tossed away with the bare minimum of reverence, but rather that than an artifice-laden performance as given by many lesser musicians. There is no doubt that Florian Boesch recognises the unsettling darkness that stirs within many of Schubert’s lieder, exemplified by Nachtviolen, Abschied and Der Wanderer in this recital. Strophe aus ‘die Götter Griechenlands’ did little but leave me cold as the final notes were left hanging in the air and Florian Boesch offered a glacial stare over an enthusiastic reception from the audience.
Schubert’s An den Mond and Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh’ were offered as encores. Both possessed the qualities that had been markedly lacking for too much of the evening – emotional balance and a beautiful thread of voice well projected. One thing is for sure though, it will be some time before I feel the need for another aural pummelling from Florian Boesch.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.