Schubert – Prometheus, D 674
Schubert – Gesänge des Harfners, D 478-80
Wolf – Three Michelangelo Lieder
Wolf – Prometheus
Zemlinsky – Die Schlanke Wasserlilie
Zemlinsky – In die Ferne
Zemlinsky – Wandl’ich in dem Wald des Abends
Zemlinsky – Waldgespräch
Krenek – Seven Songs from Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, op.62
Florian Boesch (baritone)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
An enterprising programme, but did it come off? I found myself rather in two minds, at least with respect to Florian Boesch, for Malcolm Martineau’s piano contribution was uniformly excellent. Boesch is an unconventional Lieder-singer: not for the purist, given an approach that often proved frankly operatic. I mean this not in the sense of placing line and tone over words, quite the opposite, but in terms of an overtly physical presentation with a great deal of stage movement and gesture.
Schubert’s Goethe setting, Prometheus, thus opened the programme with a virile piano introduction, fully matched by Boesch’s entry and recitative-like delivery. It was not beautiful but angry, prophetic perhaps of Wagner’s Dutchman. And the final stanza – ‘Hier sitz ich, former Menschen/Nach meinem Bilde …’ (Here I sit, fashioning men/after my own image) – possessed Beethovenian humanistic purpose. The following Gesänge des Harfners, Goethe again, were properly scaled down, sharply characterised. Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt projected the bleakness of enforced solitude, Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß weary resignation with one’s earthly lot, and An die Türen an almost ghostly presence. Did the latter, though, verge too close to Sprechgesang?
Doubts resurfaced in the Wolf Michelangelo-Lieder. Martineau provided quasi-orchestral colour in the introduction to Wohl denk’ich oft, Boesch responding in musico-dramatic style. But Alles endet, was entstehet proved a case of commitment to verbal meaning at the expense of intonation and tonal production, though pianistic darkness was no less than an object lesson. I liked the apt sense of quickening in Fühlt meine Seele, but when returning to Goethe’s Prometheus, for Wolf’s setting, physical expression combined with hectoring to suggest that less might have been more.
Repertoire in the second half was more unusual. Four Zemlinsky songs turned us instantly to a fin-de-siècle world, though we do not hear the composer here at his most adventurous. A highlight was the Heine setting, Wandl’ich in dem Wald des Abends, nicely poised, with a Schumannesque delicacy that would be echoed in the Schumann encore. Boesch’s response was full of interesting detail, for instance the crescendo and diminuendo upon the final word, ‘einher’. (Whether that were in the score, I do not know: if so, it was respected; if not, it was an imaginative touch.) The Eichendorff setting, Waldgespräch, benefited from the full musico-dramatic treatment, revealing a Zemlinsky successor to Erlkönig.
Finally came a selection from Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. I had awaited this keenly, if only for the welcome opportunity to hear repertoire from off the beaten track, but I was less convinced about its intrinsic quality. Perhaps I should have paid closer heed to the date: 1929, for this musical travel diary pre-dates the twelve-note Karl V. I could find little to unite the musical style beyond a certain anonymity and the texts, the composer’s own, are rather wordy. Boesch and Martineau nevertheless relished the opportunity of performance, whether in raindrop word-painting during Wetter – ‘Weather’, a singularly uninspiring title! – and Regentag, or the theatricality of Alpine collapse (‘einstürzen’) in Friedhof im Gebirgsdorf. Boesch, in Regentag, showed a seductive quality not readily evident during the first half, whilst his unmistakeably Austrian style and pronunciation paid off handsomely in Unser Wein (Dem Andenken Franz Schuberts). Alpenbewohner witnessed the adoption of a cabaret-like style of delivery, not inappropriate to the text, the song emerging as a demented successor to Schoenberg’s Brettl-Lieder, albeit without the mastery of form. There was much food for thought then, even if certain reservations persisted.