Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Boesch / Martineau @ Wigmore Hall, London

21 March 2012

There is no silence like a Wigmore Hall silence, and this recital was listened to in a profound one: unlike some of my colleagues, I enjoy the house managers’ exhortations concerning mobile phones and coughing, and deplore the new recorded announcement – get rid of it, please, and rely on David and Tarek to remind us how viciously we will be frowned upon should we chance to do anything which the Hall does not like. I have for some time had a recurring nightmare in which my ‘phone, despite being firmly off, suddenly comes to life, treating everyone to a burst of ‘O nuit d’amour’ in the stentorian tones of Franco Corelli – for this sin I am rapidly bundled from the hall and dumped outside, pelted with the collected works of Schubert and warned never to darken the Wiggy’s doorstep again. And quite right too.

To the singing! Why, one wonders, is Florian Boesch not delighting audiences with, say, ‘Il cuore vi dono’ on several evenings at the Royal Opera House? This is a really great operatic voice, and it belongs to a man who just can’t let a line go by without wringing every drop of meaning from it – he’s almost, but not quite, wasted on Lieder. This was not Die schöne Müllerin for the faint-hearted, in other words for those who like their Schubert sweet and gemütlich, since both Boesch and Malcolm Martineau pluck at your heartstrings straight away with a ‘Das Wandern’ which holds every nuance of the poor deluded miller lad’s thwarted dream, from the joy of wandering, through the thundering mill-stones – Martineau’s playing a small miracle of onomatopoeia here – to the final ‘wandern.’

‘Danksagung an den Bach’ did not impress with the long-breathed legato line of some interpreters, but that’s not this baritone’s style; he never met a legato he couldn’t challenge with verbal nuance, in this case a rueful tone at ‘hast mich berückt?’ and ‘für’s Herze.’ Both singer and pianist bring the characters to life – the stolid miller, the decidedly not-worth-it daughter, and most of all the hopeless boy, his daft enthusiasm in ‘Ungeduld’ so clearly not reciprocated. Boesch is at his best in these over-the-edge songs, the rawness of ‘Mein!’ so much more his forte than the sentimentality of ‘Pause.’

If the constant dramatization of both singing and playing become a bit too much by the middle of the cycle, relief is provided by a beautifully restrained ‘Trockne Blumen’ with a surprisingly muted ‘Ach, Tränen machen/Nicht maiengrün’ – but just when you were lulled into quiet contemplation, Boesch and Martineau flung you back into the abyss with a searing ‘Der Winter ist aus’ which has you mentally running back into the burrow. There may have been a few effortful high notes at the close, but ‘Des Baches Wiegenlied’ was no saccharine lullaby – not that you’d expect one from this singer; I’ve seldom heard such anger at ‘Hinweg, hinweg’ or indeed such anxiety behind the piano’s rocking motion. Boesch clearly shares Matthias Goerne’s view that the narrative of this cycle is in some ways as dark as that of Winterreise, since instead of soldiering on, the forsaken man dies.

This is a powerhouse of a Lieder partnership: raw yet insightful, uncompromising yet sensitive, and it was great to see it enjoyed by a packed house. Future recitals in the same series include Henk Neven and Hans Eijsackers on April 4th, and John Mark Ainsley and Roger Vignoles on April 25th.

Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org

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