Thursday 23 August 2018

Salzburg Festival (1) – Boesch/Martineau: Schubert, Mahler, and Krenek, 20 August 2018

Grosser Saal, Mozarteum

Schubert: Der Wanderer, D 649; Der Wanderer an den Mond, D 870; An den Mond, SD 259
Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österrichischen Alpen, op.62

Florian Boesch (baritone)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)

There are many ways to wander, not least with one foot in the soil of German Romanticism. Many of us will think of the paintings of Friedrich – now, alas, almost too well known – and of Wotan in Siegfried. Need there be such metaphysical implications? Perhaps, perhaps not; it would be difficult to avoid them completely in a Liederabend. That is not to say, however, that they might not be played with, questioned, even satirised. As Florian Boesch admits, in a booklet interview, it is not easy to know how to programme Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österrichischen Alpen. Schubert and Mahler here offered complementary, even dialectical standpoints from which to approach Krenek’s song-cycle.

The three opening Schubert songs were well chosen, even their titles making the connection clear: Der Wanderer, Der Wanderer an den Mond, and An den Mond. Boesch’s crystal clear diction, never an end in itself but a crucial guide to meaning, was apparent from the start. The different register chosen for the moon’s encouragement – ‘Folge true dem alten Gliese, wähler keine Heimat nicht’, or should that be discouragement? – made its point without exaggeration. Likewise the quiet ecstasy of ‘schein’, of appearance, of reflection, on ‘Seh’ ich mild im Widerscheine’ told us all we needed to know. Both Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, perhaps a little reticent in these songs, used the form of Schubert’s second and third songs to chart a wandering of their own: similar yet different throughout their stanzas. Already, it was clear that this was to be a performance of a very ‘Austrian’ baritone, at times tenor-like, in the line of Wolfgang Holzmair, although certainly not merely to be identified with him.

Martineau turned far more interventionist – as, indeed, did Boesch – in Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer. Fair enough: there is no un-mediated Mahler, certainly not here. Sometimes, though, less is more, or at least it can be. I could not help but find the very heavy piano accents in ‘Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht’ a little much, perhaps also Boesch’s underlining of words. His heavy sarcasm in the following ‘Ging heut’ morgen über’s Feld’ ensured that what may sometimes be lost was not. At what price, though? Expressionistic anger, Wozzeck-like, made a powerful case for such an approach in ‘Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer’, although intonation sometimes went a little awry. Uneasy repose, in a very slow ‘Die zweu blauen Augen von meinem Schatz’ suggested a dark dreamworld indeed, responding perhaps to the Schubert of Winterreise, not least in the frozen quality to Martineau’s piano part.

Krenek’s cycle thus emerged, both as work and performance, as some sort of mediated response to those two extremes (extremes which, of course, retained something of each other within). The expectancy of the opening ‘Motiv’, together with its slightly doubting harmonies, nicely pointed by Martineau, set the scene – without, quite rightly, our yet knowing how it and its action would develop. As James Parsons put it in his 2010 Austrian Studies article on the work, Krenek is, to an extent at least, ‘reversing the associative connotations of the Lied as a medium suited to withdrawing from the cares of the world, and, in place of that, taking up the genre as the means by which to actively work through life’s larger concerns’. Which may, of course, as we heard here, entail dealing with issues of withdrawal; indeed, it almost certainly will. To follow such a song with ‘Verkehr’, a song playing with pictorialism and Neue Sachlichkeit just as it plays with the mountain railway that is its ostensible subject, takes us further – and so it did here, Boesch’s irony less exaggerated and in many ways more telling than in Mahler. Is ‘scenery’ lighter? Perhaps, as in the following ‘Kloster in den Alpen’, but there are echoes here of Romanticism; consciously or otherwise, Boesch and Martineau seemed to point – or at least I heard them doing so – to Schumann’s Im Rhein. Or is that a pointless diversion? ‘Abends dann beim Wein im Klosterkeller magst du nachdenken, was für ein sinnlos Leben du fuhrst.’ Schubert is the more obvious model, of course, and, I think, the more obvious focus of rebellion. In ‘Traurige Stunde’, we were asked to participate in an act of false or at least fallible remembrance, even before the explicit act thereof in ‘Unser Wein (Dem Andenken Franz Schuberts)’.

For memory is a strange thing. Its ambivalence and ambiguity had been prepared in the preceding ‘Regentag’, not least by further suggestion of musical ‘autonomy’ in the piano part. More than once such thoughts came to mind, unsettling and yet expanding ideas of what this music, these words, their alchemy (or not) might be ‘about’. A journey was underfoot, towards dodecaphony, through quasi-Schoenbergian procedures in ‘Auf und ab’, itself questioned by the grandeur of external display in the succeeding ‘Albenbewohner (Folkloristisches Potpourri)’. The post-expressionism of ‘Gewitter’, again not entirely unlike the Schoenberg of the 1920s, although certainly never to be confused with him, told us how gloriously untrue that song’s final major chord must be. If there were a decision (‘Entscheidung’), it seemed to relate to reinforcement of those ambiguities, ambivalences, autonomies. We citizens of nowhere, we rootless cosmopolitans know no home; we no longer want one. Or do we?