Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Boesch / Zeyen @ Wigmore Hall, London

11 September 2011

On Thursday night the Wigmore Hall provided us with a glimpse into the futures of four young hopefuls in the genre of the Lied, and on this Sunday we experienced what might be called the finished product, with this polished programme from a baritone who really knows how to run a recital. When Florian Boesch sings, you never for one moment get that uncomfortable feeling that the singer might not quite make the next note, or those even more mauvais quarts d’heures when you realize that the words being sung are not, shall we say, exactly what the poet wrote. Whether or not you warm to him is another matter, but there are very knowledgeable people who consider him the very best interpreter of Lieder around today.

I’ve previously called him “the not Gerhaher baritone” and that still holds true: where Gerhaher is all about silky tone and stillness, Boesch is more the man for grasping the song and wresting every ounce of possible meaning from it. He’s at his best in extremis – that is to say, either at forte or in moments of the most exceptional tenderness; fortunately there were many of both during this recital. The first Schumann group provided ample evidence of his skill with dramatic narrative: fervently supported by Justus Zeyen’s playing, Heine’s words rang out with clarion command, especially in ‘Die beiden Grenadiere’ where you could almost feel the walls shaking at lines such as ‘Mein Kaiser gefangen!’ A similar power was heard in Mahler’s ‘Der Schildwache Nachtlied’ where you almost jumped out of your seat at ‘Er führt den Krieg’.

Boesch’s interpretation of Schumann’s Liederkreis Op. 24 is one which eschews any hint of sentimentality, coming down firmly on the side of bitterness and anguish; his astringent tone and forceful delivery serve this reading well. The first song was not so much a statement of a lover’s anxiety as an expression of bleakest despair, finely echoed by Zeyen’s desolate nachspiel, and ‘Es treibt mich hin’ went to the very edge of what a voice can do to suggest anguish, the final ‘Spotten sie tückish der Liebenden hast’ almost spat into the air, the diction so sharp that you felt you could almost touch those consonants. Where most singers will take a line like ‘Lächelt auch so fromm und mild’ in ‘Berg’ und Burgen’ as a moment of lyrical beauty, perhaps even indulging in it, Boesch makes you understand that it’s actually about cruel deception.

‘Mit Myrten und Rosen’ is sometimes seen as a sugary, over-romantic piece, but Boesch reminds us that the songs are seen as buried in a coffin, to be revived only with the unlikely possibility of the beloved finally seeing them – for such a firm exponent of all the bitterness which unrequited love can bring, he’s nevertheless a still-hoping true Romantic at heart though, since he can’t help dwelling with exceptionally poetic fervour on ‘Du süsses, süsses Lieb’ im fernen Land’ – we knew it was there all along of course.

That poetic fervour was also much in evidence in Boesch’s reading of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen which, like the best interpretations of Die Schöne Müllerin, entirely brushes aside any hint of gemütlichkeit, concentrating instead on the bitterness, despair and rejection which are the wayfarer’s lot. By the time we got to ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’ with its Lindenbaum which seemed to snow not just blossom but poison onto the poor chap, I was beginning to feel very grateful for having indulged in a Kir Royale during the interval. I felt the need of it even more during the encore, a beautifully judged ‘Ich bin der Welt’ which sent us off… not exactly happy, but certainly enriched.

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

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