A powerhouse of a Lieder partnership: raw yet insightful, uncompromising yet sensitive – that was our verdict on the last time we reviewed Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, and this elegantly planned evening of Liszt, Strauss and Schubert provided no reason to alter that view.
Boesch prefers the most romantic and passionate songs, only occasionally straying into the humorous or bellicose, and his interpretations of them are far from the dreamy crooning which is so often heard; with every song, he questions, probes and frequently leaves you wondering if you’ve really heard them before. Martineau is the perfect foil to this approach, since his playing, whilst just as fresh and searching as the singing, sometimes provides the consoling touch of sweetness.
Liszt’s ‘Es muss ein Wunderbares sein’ appears to be a direct statement of how amazing it is that two people can remain faithful until death, yet Boesch’s singing, with its colloquial directness and ever-present sense of the fragility behind our lives, seems to question this idyll as much as celebrating it. ‘O Lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!’ needed no doubt, however, the fervour of lines such as ‘O Gott, es war nicht bös gemeint!’ so warm that you could almost bask in it from the rear stalls.
The Strauss group offered some well loved songs, all given the idiosyncratic Boesch treatment, perhaps best shown in ‘Allerseelen.’ He begins as if talking to a living beloved, his conversational singing so exceptionally natural that the poem’s reality seems shocking; at ‘Gib’ mir nur einen deiner süssen Blicke’ he does not caress the term ‘sweet’ quite so much as Fischer-Dieskau, but the emotion is not thereby lessened, the feeling more bittersweet than anguished.
The all-Schubert second half was typically intense, with ‘light relief’ provided in the shape of a finely insouciant ‘Lachen und Weinen’ and, to a lesser extent, an unusually fast and not too prayerful ‘An die Musik.’ Schubert’s setting of Schulze’s ‘An mein Herz’ is one of those examples of how this composer transformed mediocre poetry into sublime art, and Boesch and Martineau made it sound like the pinnacle of the Lied that it ought to be. Martineau’s playing of those heartbreaking minor-to-major phrases was superb, and as for the singing, its under-stated yet passionate ardour brought every line into fresh vibrancy. The final phrase, ‘Und denken doch unser nicht’ left no doubt that the speaker’s feeling is more akin to rage than resignation.
There were a few instances of Boesch’s tendency to swallow consonants at certain line endings in some songs, but this was more than compensated for by flawless performances of ‘Meeres Stille’ and ‘Abschied’ (the delicate Mayrhofer one, not the rumbustious farewell by Rellstab) the latter holding the hall spellbound with its hushed cadences. Two Schubert encores, ‘An den Mond’ and ‘Uber allen Gipfeln ist Ruh’ brought the evening to a reflective conclusion.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.
*For an alternative view, read what Evan Dickerson has to say…