Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Florian Boesch (baritone)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. 21-25 May 2015, All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London
Texts and translations available at the Onyx website
Full track-list at the end of this review
ONYX 4149 [74:08]

My first experience of Florian Boesch occurred a few years ago when he gave a fine Schubert recital, including Schwanengesang, at the Cheltenham Music Festival (review). The very favourable impression he made then has been maintained subsequently through a number of Schubert CDs: Winterreise (review), Die schöne Müllerin (review) and Schwanengesang (review), all released by Onyx, and a mixed recital for Hyperion (review). I’ve also heard him sing music by other composers, both on disc and on the radio, almost invariably to excellent effect. His fourth Schubert disc for Onyx is a programme of miscellaneous songs.

In the opening item, Der Fischer, I was struck at once by the relaxed, easy delivery; the singing is almost confiding. This continues over into Der König in Thule, which is sung in a gentle, trancelike fashion. Though I admired the technical control I wondered if the singing was not a little too contained. Rightly, a different approach is adopted for Der Zwerg. Though Boesch is quite suave at the start of this song he racks up the tension as the narrative unfolds and introduces an appropriate degree of hardness into his voice. I found this account of the song pretty compelling.

However we’re back to quiet intimacy for Im Frühling and Nachtviolen and my listening notes for the second of those two songs indicate that by now I was beginning to wonder if this intimate approach was not a little too much of a good thing. I readily acknowledge that both artists deliver a beautifully etched reading of Im Frühling and that the poignant, gentle melancholy of Nachtviolen is sensitively conveyed. That said, are some of the performances a little too subtle? I wonder if Boesch is not singing a bit too much to the microphone. Would he sing like this in a live recital? Probably not to such an extent. I’m not going to labour the point though there are several other such instances in the recital. It’s important to say, however, that there’s also a great deal to admire and relish here.

Gruppe aus dem Tartarus is suitably magisterial. Towards the end the proclamations of ‘Ewigkeit’ ring out powerfully. I also liked very much his treatment of Der Gott und die Bajadere. This is a lengthy song and can sound repetitious. Boesch avoids any such risk by employing a wide range of expression – from intimacy all the way through to forthright – and lots of different vocal colours. Performances such as these remind us what an intelligent singer he is. Richard Stokes tells us in his notes that An den Mond has not found favour with some critics. For the life of me I can’t see why since it is built on a winningly quintessential Schubert melody. This is another performance in which Boesch is somewhat withdrawn but I’m glad of that; his performance is graceful and the gently sad melody flows beautifully.

The celebrated An die Musik is effortlessly done while Du bist die Ruh seems effortless but is actually the product of expert technical control. Here Boesch is often confiding in his delivery though he opens his voice out expansively for the two-fold climax. Litanei auf das Fest alle Seelen is properly rapt at first and at the close but the central part of the song has greater strength.

Despite the reservation that I expressed earlier in this review this is a recital disc that I enjoyed very much. It contains a great deal of fine, insightful singing and pianism and wonderful music. Admirers of Florian Boesch will find much to savour here.

Sadly, the documentation is very disappointing. The notes are by Richard Stokes and are authoritative. However, the comments are succinct - no more than a sentence or two about each song. I strongly suspect he’s been given a word limit and told to stick to it. Irritatingly, the songs are not discussed in the order in which they’re sung so one is constantly skipping about within Mr Stokes’ essay. The main disappointment, however, is that neither texts nor translations are included in the booklet; instead we are directed to the Onyx website. I’m sorry but this isn’t satisfactory; many people will, like me, not have an internet connection in the room where they do their listening. The texts and translations were provided for the three previous Schubert albums by this artist so the lack of them now seems cheese-paring.

John Quinn

Previous review Ralph Moore

Der Fischer D225 [2:52]
Der König in Thule D367 [2:44]
Der Zwerg D771 [5:11]
Im Frühling D882 [4:27]
Nachtviolen D752 [2:54]
An den Mond D259 [2:42]
An mein Herz D860 [2:58]
Frühlingsglaube D686 [2:50]
Heidenröslein D257 [1:45]
Die Vogel D691 [1:06]
Fischerweise D881 [2:56]
Geheimes D719 [1:32]
Lachen und Weinen D777 [1:54]
Erster Verlust D226 [1:44]
An die Musik (version b) D54 [2:10]
Du bist die Ruh D776 [3:50]
Gruppe aus dem Tartarus D583 (396) [3:13]
Der Gott und die Bajadere D254 [8:53]
Der Tod und das Mädchen D531 [2:36]
Abendstern D806 [2:20]
Die Liebe hat gelogen D751 [2:38]
Litanei auf das Fest alle Seelen D343 [4:42]
Schwanengesang D744 [2:38]
Der Sieg D805 [3:32]

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