The latest in the Wigmore’s series exploring the ‘Complete Songs’ of Schubert was a mostly sombre affair, concentrating on songs in which the protagonist is a lonely outsider or wanderer through the world, performed with the fervour we’ve come to expect from Florian Boesch, who never met a syllable out of which he couldn’t wring some meaning. His partnership with Malcolm Martineau, although it’s one which might at first seem unlikely, is in fact the perfect union of singer and accompanist.
‘Der Pilgrim’ set the tone, Schiller’s impassioned words and Schubert’s noble music, with the composer’s characteristic evocation of the pilgrim’s steps, given full justice both in Boesch’s ardent singing and Martineau’s full-blooded playing. It’s easy to opt either for narrative neutrality or hand-wringing in lines such as ‘Ach, der Himmel über mir / Will die Erde nicht berühren’ (‘ah, the sky above me, will not touch the earth’) but Boesch gives the sentiments just the right melancholy edge.
Schubert’s settings of Goethe’s Gesänge des Harfners were given a tremendous performance, full of the Harper’s loneliness and longing: ‘Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass’ (‘Who never ate his bread with tears’) was performed as though each word were being wrung out of the deepest anguish. The wonderful but infrequently performed ‘Greisengesang,’ with its reminders of Winterreise, allowed Boesch to display his unforced, fine-spun legato line, and the much better known ‘Wandrers Nachtlied’ provided a peaceful contrast.
Does Florian do winsome, we asked ourselves? Indeed he does, and there were a few examples of it in the programme’s more varied second half, ‘Geheimes’ and ‘Seligkeit’ both allowing him to indulge what he would probably call his silly side, as indeed did the encore, ‘Die Vögel.’ All were given the Martineau touch of seemingly insouciant skill.
The highlights of this part were a finely judged performance of ‘Abendstern’ (Mayrhofer) with Boesch’s characteristic sense of imparting quiet confidences to the listener, and ‘Der Kreuzzug’ which brought us back to the earlier theme of the wandering Pilgrim and displayed both the singer’s mastery of an elevated narrative and the pianist’s ability to be at one with the mood and atmosphere of the words.
The next concerts in the series feature the Vier Canzonen (Miah Perrson, Joseph Breinl, May 27th) and ‘Songs from the Plays and Novels’ (Angelika Kirchschlager, Julius Drake, June 10th).